By LISA MACNEIL
At the September 8, 2020 regular meeting, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved the submission of the Mud Springs Management Prospectus to the Department of Environmental Protection Division of State Lands.
Mud Springs is the head spring of the Mud River located just north of the Weeki Wachee River. The Mud River joins with the Weeki Wachee and then flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
Division of State Lands will present the Prospectus at the October meeting of the State Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) to amend the property into the boundary of the Florida Forever First Magnitude Springs List. The property would then be managed by the Hernando County Environmentally Sensitive Lands Program for conservation and compatible recreation.
The funding amount is undetermined at the time of this writing and will be requested annually for the General Fund's Sensitive Lands Department.
Deputy Administrator Tobey Phillips presented the topic for discussion to the BOCC. At the beginning of August, the county was approached by DEP and a private real estate firm about working on the possibility of partnering with the state’s managed four parcels totaling about 38.7 acres, which includes Mud Springs.
Phillips reported that the properties have been on the market for some time, and the unnamed real estate firm decided to take a different approach of connecting with the state to preserve the property. Initially, SWFWMD was approached, but their direction is to manage larger properties, so they directed the county to DEP to discuss the details.
The Board of Trustees would hold the title, but the county would enter into an agreement to manage the properties. The properties would be purchased through the Florida Forever Fund, and a management plan will be developed, similar to the other management plans in place through the Sensitive Lands program.
The commission gave permission for staff to submit the management Prospectus to DEP, which will be considered in an October meeting of the Acquisition and Restoration Council, which is the first step in a very long process. If this prospectus is supported and accepted, the item goes to the Board of Trustees next May.
It’s important to note that the county does not have any firm plans for what to do with the property. Part of the prospectus is for the county to identify potential recreation at the site, but it doesn’t bind the county to any agreement at this time.
“If we decide to do nothing, that’s fine too, but we had to identify potential,” Phillips said. “The important part is, there’s a second-magnitude springs on this property, it allows us to apply for funding that we currently don’t have access to. So it does allow us to preserve and conserve the springs along this property.”
Commissioner John Allocco first asked about funding expected from the county. “I just want to make sure that we’re not getting the county into a position where we may not have a funding source to be able to do a good job. Once the county is managing this, we’ve got to be regularly cleaning up the property … all those things that we don’t like that are happening on the Weeki Wachee (river), we now have the fingers pointing back at us … because it’s our responsibility. I just want to make sure that’s in the thought process.”
Phillips said, “Once the management plan is developed, which would include public comment … any step that is taken on the property would come before the BOCC for consideration.”
Commissioner Wayne Dukes remarked that the Mud River got its name for a reason. He would like to see RESTORE Act funds used to remove some of the silt from the river. “That could be a good project. That could be a really nice place for Hernando County.”
Chairman John Mitten said the plan makes sense. “I think it’s one of those natural gems that Hernando County has, and to be able to have our fingerprint on that, and to take full responsibility for the management of it, I think is a good partnership with the other agencies involved.”
Remarking on the future use of the property, Commissioner Jeff Holcomb stated, “We are looking at this land solely as a preservation (area)”