by LISA MACNEIL
The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) discussed the proposed Legislative bill creating a Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve, and what it means for the future of local decision-making and state funding. Hernando county has several state-funded aquatics projects already pending, and the future of those were also discussed.
The bill, championed by Senator Ralph Missulo (R – Lecanto) officially designates Hernando’s coastline as an Aquatic Preserve, subject to regulation by various state agencies, with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) mentioned most often. County Administrator Jeff Rogers advised the commissioners that the cost to the county to establish a preserve would be a $40,000 one-time setup fee, and $2,000 per year thereafter.
As of this writing, no decisions have been made in Tallahassee. Since this was only a discussion, no decisions were made by the BOCC. The bill passed the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee and Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee as favorable, and is on the State Affairs Committee for February 27, 2020.
Commissioner John Allocco stated that he had sent emails to state officials seeking more information, but received nothing but acknowledgements.
The bill proposes to add a state level of protection to protect seagrass up to 9 miles off the shores of Hernando county, and should have nothing to do with internal canals, such as those within Hernando Beach, or matters pertaining to the Weeki Wachee river.
The biggest concern of the local government is that of an extra layer of bureaucracy, particularly when it comes to funding of Gulf shore projects, such as dredging. Hernando County Aquatics Manager Keith Kolasa explained, “Minimal dredging is going to be accepted. (The State officials) did mention maintenance dredging is allowable but now (the county has to) meet the OFW (Outstanding Florida Waterways) standards which is going to have a financial cost because of the turbidity standards.”
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), most OFWs “are areas managed by the state or federal government as parks, including wildlife refuges, preserves, marine sanctuaries, estuarine research reserves, certain waters within state or national forests, scenic and wild rivers, or aquatic preserves. Generally, the waters within these managed areas are OFWs because the managing agency has requested this special protection.”
Additionally, “Waters that are not already in a state or federal managed area may be designated as “special water” OFWs if certain requirements are met, including a public process of designation.”
Kolasa added, “It does raise the bar. Permitting takes longer and the cost goes up. There are benefits, in that you won’t have oil and drilling off the coast in the preserve.”
Commissioner Steve Champion’s first concern was that of added bureaucracy. “I’m a little concerned that it’s going to take more red tape to get something done. We can’t even get these canals (corrected) now.”
The other commissioners concurred with Champion. Commissioner Wayne Dukes said, “ I’ve been around government all my life and more government has never been a good thing.”
As far as the waterways and their protection and conservation, all were in agreement that the current government structure has done a satisfactory job over the years in managing the waterways.
Kolasa also had concerns regarding maps drawn with inconsistent boundaries. “It’s really hard for us to interpret the plan for what’s preserved or proposed because this doesn’t look consistent with state statutes or federal statutes. The nine-mile line definition doesn’t extend nearly out as far as what (the state) is proposing, so we would like some clarification on that.”