By JULIE B. MAGLIO
Bills in both the Florida House (HB 1061) and Senate (SB 1042) have been introduced for the establishment of an Aquatic Preserve extending through Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. It covers submerged lands from Anclote to Yankeetown. Rep. Massulo has sponsored the bill in the House, while Senator Albritton sponsored the senate counterpart.
The summary states, “Creating the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve; designating the preserve for inclusion in the aquatic preserve system; outlining the authority of the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund in respect to the preserve; prohibiting the establishment and management of the preserve from infringing upon the riparian rights of upland property owners adjacent to or within the preserve, etc.”
Should the bill become law, the effective date is July 7, 2020.
Reading the House Bill original document, the bill sets limits on submerged lands related to dredging, building, seawall construction, well drilling, excavation and sale of submerged lands. Authorization for any of these activities would go through the “Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund.”
The designation of Aquatic Preserves falls under the Florida Aquatic Preserve Act of 1975.
The Board of Trustees would be able to enter into agreements for the exchange of ‘sovereignty lands’ for privately owned lands. According to floridabar.org, sovereignty lands are “those underlying water bodies which are navigable for useful public purposes and do not include “lands that do not immediately border on navigable waters,” nor are they considered navigable simply because they are affected by the tides.”
The board may conduct restoration and enhancement efforts in the preserve and its tributaries and make efforts to stabilize eroding shorelines.
Rules the board shall adopt include:
“Regulation of human activity within the preserve in such a manner as not to interfere unreasonably with lawful and traditional public uses of the preserve, such as sport fishing, commercial fishing, boating, and swimming.”
In regards to riparian rights of property owners, the bill states in part, “The establishment or the management of the preserve may not operate to infringe upon the riparian rights of upland property owners adjacent to or within the preserve.”
The bill says the Department of Legal Affairs may issue fines of $5000 per day against a person who violates any rule or regulation issued.
Advocating for the aquatic preserve designation at the Jan. 28, 2020 Board of County Commissioners meeting, Charles Greenwell, a community activist stated, “I respectfully submit that this will be a positive for Hernando County and our future economic development.”
County Administrator Jeff Rogers stated that at this time he cannot go on record as totally supporting the bill. He said that thorough analysis is needed and the Port Authority will be discussing it at their next meeting.
He said we need to be very careful when it comes to making a conservation area around the whole coastline of Hernando County and what the long term impacts may be.
Vice Chairman Allocco stated that he would like to know what the fiscal ramifications may be and how the use of the lands would be affected.
Chairman Mitten referred to a map of Florida’s coastline showing the aquatic preserves. He stated, “I think you look at that map and it seems as though our area is the only one that is not covered by this particular preserve legislation and so that cuts both ways.
“Some look at that and go well how come we're not part of it? It's obvious that we should close this gap and preserve the entire coast. Others might look at it and go 'wow if there was ever a chance to do something unique we’re the only ones on the coast that can do it on this side.' ”
He said that whatever is decided, there needs to be a considerable amount of strategic planning and a great deal of collaboration, which they have not done as of yet.
“So depending upon this legislation, I think that if this does not go through. Then I think that it's incumbent upon Hernando County to try and get as many stakeholders together and come up with a strategic plan. In the end we may all agree and go back to Tallahassee and say we'd like an aquatic preserve, but I think for me at this point without a plan it's hard to jump in on that full force.”
Similar legislation for a Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve was proposed in 2014.