|The President’s Hoot|
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
Indian River County Public Works Department has requested from St. John River Water Management District a variance to construct an enlarged replacement boat ramp and a new, separate fishing pier within the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) which would extend into an Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserve.
The requested variance would allow dredging in waters within two protected areas which have the best seagrasses in Indian River County. Scientific studies by noted scientists, including Dr. Grant Gilmore, have identified these seagrass beds as an important nursery for the spotted seatrout. In addition, the variance would contravene the county’s Manatee Protection Plan, which prohibits boat ramp facilities in this portion of the lagoon.
We do not oppose fixing up the ramp and providing needed trash bins and toilet facilities for this one location much used by kayakers, canoeists, wade, and small boat fishermen. We are willing to work with the county to find more appropriate sites for future boat ramps and piers as needed in the county.
We suggest that the county utilize the County’s Conservation Land Advisory Committee and experts in the community to develop a plan for the designated placement of all future needed ramps to avoid putting them in our Aquatic Preserves or conservation areas. We also need a plan for siting boat ramps that follows the county’s Manatee Protection Plan. We can then find funding to facilitate the access and construction in an environmentally safe way. The Oslo location is not one of those sites.
The county originally requested a 30 space parking lot and a wider paved road, which would have resulted in filling 2.5 acres of mangroves forest in addition to a fishing pier and a new extended ramp. The county now decided to postpone their request of the paved road and parking places until after the ramp and fishing pier are built. The county’s new plans still call for constructing: a 118.5 ft long fishing and observation pier, extending the boat ramp to 60 ft and building two new 70 and 50 ft long docks on either side, and dredging for the construction, which will enable larger boats through the mangroves to the shallow channel which contains thriving seagrasses, thus further destroying the habitat in an Aquatic Preserve. The channel has never been dredge before, but Commissioner Wesley Davis talks of even dredging this at a later date. If they were just repairing the ramp, or replacing a similar size ramp, we would probably not raise a fuss. But this is not the case. The present proposal for an enlarged boat ramp is just the beginning. Later after increased use by larger boats, they will request removing the 2.5 acres of mangroves for more parking spaces than the current 5-8 spaces, paving and widening the road, and finally dredging the channel. We are truly on a slippery slope with the Oslo Road Boat Ramp.
It first appeared that SJRWMD was going to approve the Variance at their August 12th Governing Board Meeting even before receiving input from state and federal agencies. Fortunately, on hearing this, PIAS, Audubon of Florida, Marine Resource Council, Save the Manatee Club, Sierra Club, Dr. Grant Gilmore, Dr. David Cox, Janice Broda, and the Florida Dept of Environmental Protection’s own Aquatic Preserve manager, wrote strong letters opposing the variance to the SJRWMD Governing Board. For detailed reasons see their letters on our website. SJRWMD Director, Kirby Green then emailed that the request for variance was removed from the Governing Board August agenda.
SJRWMD staff met with us at FMEL on July 16th and stated they were happy that we brought the issues to their attention and were surprised at the number of letters from qualified individuals over a small ramp. They now know of our concerns of it being in an Aquatic Preserve, sovereign submerged lands with Class II waters, with seagrass and manatee issues, and the possibility of the county again in the future requesting paving and parking lots, and its potential for setting a detrimental precedent. The consensus of all attending including SJRWMD was that the county should do the following:
- Remove the observation pier into sovereign submerged lands from the plans.
- Scale back the ramp to original size and place.
- Give a conservation easement to SJRWMD, Audubon of Florida, and Pelican Island Audubon to avoid future actions that would be detrimental to conservation lands.
SJRWMD indicated that the project will be re-noticed with a new time period for proper public comment.
SUMMARY: This application did not present sufficient evidence of social, economic, or environmental benefits for this requested variance to be approved. However, it is laudable that the county is concerned about what citizens want and that they try to provide for our recreational and tourist needs. What is now needed by the county is to plan ahead for the proper placement of all future needed ramps so they are not placed in our Aquatic Preserves or conservation areas. We can then plan to find funding to facilitate the access and construction of them. Audubon is willing to help. Stay tuned-this is not over yet. Your help may be needed when we get the request for further comment.
I would like to thank Janice Broda, Dr. David Cox, Joel Day Eric Draper, Jim Egan, Dr. Grant Gilmore, Laura Herren, Kayaks Etc, Charles Lee, Sheila O’Connell, Judy Orcutt, Dr. Jorge Rey, Artie Wong, and Julie Wraithmell and for the great efforts they put into this.