A letter from The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) Executive Director Brian Armstrong has left Hernando County staff and commissioners dismayed.
Mr. Armstrong responded to a letter from County Administrator Len Sossamon in reference to giving voters the chance to voice their opinion on the Shoal Line Blvd Recreation Area project proposed for a property located within the Weekiwachee Preserve owned by SWFWMD.
The county has been in talks with SWFWMD for the past few years about the project which proposes a 4 acre beach area, 3 acre picnic and children’s play area, a 5-acre picnic/activity area, 546 parking spaces, several fishing platforms, trails, boardwalks, concession areas and a kayak launch area. The county would like to trade county-owned parcels for the SWFWMD property.
Sossamon sent the letter after talks with the district in May indicated that they wouldn’t move forward due to public opposition.
“It was our understanding that the only way for this potential project to continue was by the County developing public support for it,” wrote Sossamon.
In June, the Board of County Commissioners instructed Mr. Sossamon to send the letter about the public opinion referendum for the General Election ballot to SWFWMD. In the letter, Mr. Sossamon also asked, “Commissioners would like to know if there is a level of support from such a referendum that would be sufficient for the District to proceed with the exchange and subsequent developments.”
Mr. Armstrong did not directly answer that question in his letter, but mentioned that the engagement of stakeholders would be necessary to procure. He writes, “As you know, the District is a regional agency encompassing all or part of 16 counties. Our stakeholders reach beyond county boundaries and include not only the surrounding community but also many organizations interested in our environment. Groups such as the Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, Native Plant Society, and Gulf Coast Conservancy, to name but a few, are informed and engaged stakeholders. The District values being a good neighbor. The District would expect the County to engage with our various stakeholders for input and feedback, both at present and in the future, should the proposed project proceed.”
Armstrong took the opportunity to firmly outline requirements by the district in reference to intensity and parking.
“The District would expect the intensity associated with any proposal from the County to be commensurate with that found on other District properties. Accordingly, the District will only entertain proposals showing no more than 250 parking spaces. That level of intensity would be similar to what was previously proposed in the County’s 2002 project plan, a copy of which is attached as Exhibit B. In addition, the District must insist that the wetland area identified on Exhibit B remain in its natural state, and that the project include buffers to separate the project from the Weekiwachee Preserve.”
He also stated that the district is not open to an entrance road from Osowaw Blvd.
“The existing entrance to the Preserve is located in a parking lot accessed from Osowaw Boulevard. The entrance road leads from that parking lot into the heart of the Preserve. The District keeps that road closed to avoid bisecting the natural attributes of the Preserve. Utilization of that road by the County to access the project would defeat that goal and is thus not an option the District could support.”
Another troubling factor which Armstrong mentions is the restoration of the land exchange properties.
“In addition, the County-owned property proposed for exchange is in a highly altered state. A map showing the parcels under consideration for exchange is attached hereto as Exhibit A. The District would expect a land acquisition in this area to match as closely as possible the condition of the surrounding Preserve. Therefore, prior to any exchange, the County’s parcels would have to be restored to natural conditions at the County’s expense. ”
During board discussions on the letter, Commissioner Allocco stated, “I’m fatigued with this whole issue- at this point I don’t see a point in a referendum.”
Commissioner Holcomb surmised, “Basically this letter is a big ‘No.’ ”
Chairman Champion stated, “To be honest, Mr. Armstrong, he sat with me and told me he was all in favor of this project and then he tells you (Mr. Sossamon) something totally different… Why are we getting mixed messages all over the place?” He asked, “Why is SWFWMD in the land owning business- why are they controlling our county?”
Mr. Sossamon remarked to the Board, “The concept we brought to you was a concept we were given to believe was a concept that staff of the district approved (of)…”
The letter hasn’t completely dashed all prospects of the recreation area on Shoal Line. The county will schedule a workshop to discuss their options and gain public input.
Board members also mulled over some promising alternatives to the Shoal Line project including:
• a splash park at Anderson Snow
• Community pool
• The potential to partner with the state college/ and or the City of Brooksville in rec projects
• Pump park for bikes
• Stadium for sporting events or ampitheatre
Community organizations recognize the need for additional recreation and are helping out. The Rotary Club of Spring Hill Central is hosting the Nature Coast Seafood festival on November 3. The event’s website states, “A primary goal of this event is to raise money for a local community splash park to insure that children of every economic level can have a safe place to enjoy and escape the heat of Florida.” For more information about the festival go to: https://naturecoastseafoodfestival.com/
Let us know your thoughts on additional recreation in the county.
Are you in favor of additional recreation? Why or why not? If you are, what additional recreational activities would you like to see?