by JULIE B. MAGLIO
This article corresponds to the following agenda item of the Jan. 29, 2019 BOCC meeting:
K. PLANNING AND ZONING DIRECTOR RONALD PIANTA
Submittal of Grant Application for Access Improvements at Peck Sink Preserve Through Department of Environmental Protection Recreational Trails Program
Peck Sink is a unique geological feature in Hernando County similar to Devil’s Millhopper in Gainesville, although not quite as deep. There is between 40 and 60 feet of relief at Peck Sink just southwest of Brooksville off of Wiscon Road adjacent to Mobley Rd. The geological feature is actually a series of sinks leading to a main sink that ultimately drains into the Florida aquifer. The preserve itself is 112 acres and was acquired in 2006 and 2008 for the main purpose of groundwater protection.
Planning Department’s Conservation Lands Specialist Michael Singer presented some information about Peck Sink and a proposal for improving passive recreation, public access and education at Peck Sink Preserve. The project which involves the construction of a 1600 linear foot trail of compacted stone and a 16’ x 20’ overlook viewing platform would be funded mostly through a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection Recreational Trails Program.
Singer presented the project to commissioners in order to get their approval on applying for the grant. The Hernando Board of County Commissioners approved the grant application unanimously at the Jan. 29, 2019 board meeting.
The Peck Sink watershed is quite vast at 11,000 acres. This means that 11,000 acres is draining to Peck Sink. And there is a lot of garbage collected along the way to Peck Sink.
Prior to the stormwater improvements, Singer explained that the sink was full of all types of garbage including “tires, oil bottles, anything you can think of.”
“The sink itself is a direct drain to the Florida Aquifer,” he said.
The stormwater improvements work in a multistep process. At the beginning of the sink there is a trash rake that pulls out large debris. The water is then diverted into stormwater basins. The first distilling basin pulls out smaller trash particles and sediments. The second basin is a filter marsh where excess nutrients are filtered out.
“We all know that’s important with everything surrounding the Weeki Wachee Basin Management Action Plan where we are trying to remove excess nitrogen from the Springs and aquifer,” Singer stated.
Invasive plant, timber and wildlife management also occurs on the property. Slash pines have been planted through a cooperative agreement with the forestry service. There is a management plan being updated for the slash pine which will allow the county to use the forestry service to negotiate the sale of the timber at the appropriate time. “We’ll actually make money with the timber sale there,” said Singer.
They’ve received about $40,000 in funding from the FWC for invasive plant management.
They do currently provide public education opportunities, teaching the public about Peck Sink and the importance of groundwater protection.
Singer explained that the current viewing area does not provide a lot of public safety and the new platform is designed with public safety in mind. It will also provide a better vantage point as well as educational signage. The trail will begin at the existing parking lot. Both the trail and the platform would be 100 percent ADA accessible.
Financial information provided in the agenda packet:
“The estimated total project cost is $206,200. This grant requires a 20% local match ($41,240). It is proposed to utilize Park’s impact fees from District 2 as the required local match. If awarded, Hernando County will be reimbursed 80% of the total project cost. The project oversight will be conducted by Conservation Lands Specialist, Michael Singer.”
Commissioner Dukes expressed concern about increased trash and the potential for loitering on the property.
Mr. Singer said that they will initially open the property on a conditional basis with limited hours to see how it goes.
Commissioner Mitten stated that the project is “precisely the type of use we would want for our public lands that is safe and enjoyable.”
Mr. Singer remarked, “We definitely want to be able to have public land open for the public to use. Taxpayers should be able to use what they pay for.”
Letters of support from the Brooksville City Council, Tourism Department and Groundwater Guardians accompanied the agenda item.
Commissioners approved the submission of the grant application 5-0.