Hernando County has asked FWC to establish a Springs Protection Zone for the Weeki Wachee River from the southern boundary of the state park to the boat ramp at Roger’s Park. Within this zone, the county proposes to protect the river by banning the anchoring, mooring, beaching, and grounding of vessels as well as disembarking from vessels.
FWC sees the need to establish a Springs Protection Zone for the Weeki Wachee but currently proposes to prohibit these activities only at select point bars along this stretch of the river.
On April 11, commissioners directed County Administrator Jeff Rogers to ask the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) to authorize the protection of the banks of the entire Weeki Wachee River rather than only the point bars, which have received most of the attention in the efforts to rehabilitate and protect the river.
Point bars on a river are located on the interior of a river bend. As water flows into the curve, it slows down and deposits sediment onto the river bed. The sediment accumulates and creates a point bar.
Prior to this discussion, Chairman John Allocco mentioned “politics” being a factor when coordinating with state agencies. Allocco clarified, “When I said it was political, it had to do with this project. The studies told us one thing. We know what’s going on in that river, and we are not getting the support that we should be getting, I believe, from the state agencies.”
The agencies Allocco referred to are the FWC and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“We either protect the river, or we don’t. This hodge-podge doesn’t make any sense.”
The “hodge-podge” is the State’s proposal to post signs prohibiting the mooring of vessels or the disembarking from vessels on or around 20 point bar locations that account for approximately .62 miles of the 2.35 miles between Rogers Park and the State Park.
The County’s proposal is to prohibit these activities along the entire length of the river, from Rogers Park to the southern boundary of the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park through the establishment of a Springs Protection Zone per Florida Statute 327.45. Additionally, the county requests that any individual or group that operates a vessel in violation of the Springs Protection Zone be charged on a uniform boating citation per Florida statute. FWC, Hernando County, SWFWMD, HCSO and FDEP would be exempt from the prohibition of anchoring and mooring within this zone. The protection zone would not apply to property owners along the Weeki Wachee River for the purpose of docking their personal vessels on water adjacent to their property.
The 1-mile stretch of the river within the state-owned park already prohibits mooring, fishing, and swimming.
Rogers reported that he will be attending the next FWC meeting on May 10, 2023, to discuss the County’s proposal, which will be on the official agenda. The FWC will not vote on this date, and the matter will be brought to their agency’s board for discussion, with a final vote to be held in July 2023.
As a compromise, Allocco suggested protecting one-half of the 2.6-mile river, leaving the other half available for swimming and out-of-vessel activities. “So you actually have some scientific way to study it to see if it’s making a difference.”
This would be in addition to an official study conducted from May 2018 through August 2019.
Nidia Collins, a boater from Brooksville, added during the Citizens’ Comments section that alternating protected areas periodically could result in a natural rehabilitation of areas affected by visitors.
The top question that arose during the discussion is; what would stop people from mooring in an allowed location, then swimming, wading, or walking to a protected point bar? The proposed legislation only addresses the mooring or anchoring of vessels in the protected areas, not human interaction.
Commissioner Beth Narverud pointed out that under the current proposal, more denuded areas could be created in unprotected areas where people are allowed to access the riverbanks.
Charles Greenwell of Hernando Beach supports the protection of the entire river and also pointed out that the posting of 20 extra signs along the river detracts from the natural aesthetic. “Why put up signs that make the river unattractive?”
Local resident DeeVon Quirolo requested Rogers ask an additional question of the FWC. “Ask them to explain why all the waters don’t qualify and where our competent evidence failed to convince them of this need.”
Readers can submit their comments directly to the FWC via email: [email protected] .