At the end of the September 25, 2018 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve Boating in Florida’s license agreement, allowing the company to continue kayak retrieval at Roger’s Park. The vote was held at the end of the eight-hour meeting, to allow for county staff to modify sections of the contract.
Changes to the contract which the board found acceptable include the employment of another year round Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) deputy patrolling the river from Rogers Park to the head spring. Boating in Florida will enter into the agreement and pay HCSO directly, rather than the county.
Language was added to the contract to allow private kayaks priority to launch at the kayak ramp at Roger’s Park, following complaints from the public that they were forced to use the conventional boat ramp. Also, the contract will state that the 400 kayak total be maintained throughout the contract period, even if the state limit increases.
The contract will expire in two years, or when the results of the pending carrying capacity study necessitate it. Deputy County Administrator Jeff Rogers anticipates future items regarding the Weeki Wachee River on the BOCC agenda and public involvement, based on the results of the study, which is expected to begin in December 2019.
It’s been one year since Guest Services, LLC, doing business as Boating in Florida appeared before the BOCC for approval of their initial contract. Amid contention from residents concerned about the effects of human traffic on the natural resource, the board approved Boating in Florida’s operation based on their policies tuned to ensure the company is assisting in stewardship of the Weeki Wachee river.
The September 25th presentation by Boating in Florida’s representative Michael Aghajanian’s presentation followed shortly after a resolution to recognize the Weeki Wachee River Rangers, a new group focused on litter removal and conservation of the river’s landscape. In contrast to last year’s river-related meetings, fewer citizens were present to give comments. However, the concerns of overcrowding, alcohol use and education of kayak renters were once again the core of citizen’s comments.
To address overcrowding, Boating in Florida is in the process of designing a “Short Run” or exit point one mile downriver from the launch point. The short run is expected to decrease kayak traffic into Roger’s Park. Aghajanian reported the new take-out point’s design phase is 90% complete, and permitting can begin shortly to begin the actual project. The $150,000 - $200,000 project is to be funded entirely by Boating in Florida. The road leading to the point has already been built by Hernando County.
Additionally, Boating in Florida’s waiver now contains language that the renter agrees to stay in their kayak and continuously move down the river, rather than parking and lingering on the riverbanks. A $50 late fee is imposed if a kayak is not returned at the end of 4 hours.
Boating in Florida has employed a new “Alcohol Wand” to detect the smuggling of alcohol onto the river. The wand, similar in size and shape to a flashlight, provides an extra layer of detection, such has finding colorless alcohol in a water bottle.
Aghajanian also presented a non-disposable policy, which will prohibit items like plastic bottles and wrappers, beginning in Summer 2019.
Final Contract Recap:
• Franchise fee for the Rogers Park takeout point is $2600 per month
• Maximum of 400 kayaks or non-motorized vehicles per day may be extracted from Rogers Park
• Boating in Florida must enter into a two year agreement with the Sheriff’s Office to fund a year round marine deputy.