Preserve Nature and the Historic Use of the Oslo Boat Ramp

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
May 2014

Congratulations to Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari for trying to prevent the waste of more tax dollars and protect the Indian River Lagoon. On January 27, 2014, Commissioner Solari proposed to fellow Commissioners tabling of the Oslo Boat Ramp Expansion project for three to five years. He reasoned “that the work on the Oslo Boat Ramp is using a lot of Staff time and County resources, which I believe can be better utilized doing something that we know will be positive for the Lagoon.”
His proposal followed the January 18th Press Journal guest editorial by Robert L. Smith, “No justification for proposed Oslo boat ramp.” Smith compared the present unpaved parking with no facilities to the upgraded facilities located at Riverside Park six miles away, with a 75-ft.-wide boat ramp plus two 40 ft. long floating docks, 26 paved vehicle and trailer parking spaces, 118 additional parking spaces, bathrooms, picnic tables, drinking fountains, and an outdoor shower. Four additional boat ramps and 10 parking spaces are at nearby MacWilliam Park.
According to Smith: “Too much time and money has been wasted over this proposed use of tax dollars in the last three years, and commissioners need to reject this proposal on the basis of overwhelming evidence of this as a redundant, unjustified and unnecessary expenditure” and “there had never been a report of a lack of boat launching space even on the most crowded holiday weekends.”
Besides wasting over one million taxpayer dollars, this dredge and fill project will damage exceptional fish nurseries, threaten marine mammals and endanger the county’s remaining seagrass beds, which are dead north of the 17th Street Bridge!
Dr. Grant Gilmore (Senior Scientist, Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science), Paul Dritenbas (Florida Inland Navigation District Commissioner and fishing guide), Lange Sykes (President, local Coastal Conservation Association, a chapter of the State CCA’s 20,000-member fishing organization), Pat Rose (President, Save the Manatee Club), Marty Baum (Indian Riverkeeper), Dr. David Cox (Marine Ecologist), Marine Resources Council, and Audubon Florida all oppose this expansion. 
Recently, Gilmore and Sykes stressed to the County Commission the importance of the Oslo area to fish protection because it is the critical nursery for spotted seatrout, red drum, snook and tarpon. The area should be conserved for the economic and ecological health of the Lagoon, not developed.
Every commissioner says protecting and restoring the lagoon is a priority. Yet, Commissioner Solari did not even receive a second from his fellow commissioners to discuss the issue.  Conclusion? The seagrasses, mangroves, and fish are not important to them. These four commissioners continue to support this expansion that will destroy critical habitat while talking about saving the lagoon. They are not “walking the walk” and will not discuss this expansion openly. 

Pelican Island Audubon spent $14,000 in 2011 preparing for an administrative hearing against the County and St. Johns River Water Management District. After deposing our expert witnesses, the County withdrew their application. But the county submitted virtually the same proposal again, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to contradict concerns by the federal agencies: EPA, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

U.S. Representative Bill Posey sent his Chief of Staff from Washington, DC to Vero Beach to successfully pressure the USFWS to overturn their 2011 denial of the county’s permit based on threats to manatees. The expansion even goes against the county’s own Manatee Protection Plan despite 2013 being a record year for manatee deaths locally!

Why do these commissioners and politicians care more about launching bigger vessels with larger motors than saving the county’s best seagrasses and fish nurseries when Riverside Park is available?

Commissioners: this monster project will harm this unique area and must end forever.  Why spend tax dollars on an expansion project that will not preserve its historic use?  Let’s protect this beautiful scenic area for our fishers and taxpayers.  

You have a critical voice in our community, and we ask you to speak out.

Indian River County’s expansion of the Oslo boat ramp includes dredging 2.5 ft. deep out 215 ft. into the Lagoon’s best remaining seagrass beds, filling in 1.4 acres of mangroves, widening and paving a gravel road, and increasing the parking lot for big boats with big motors.  Currently, because the current depth is only inches at low tide, it accommodates small boats, canoes, and kayaks, and wading anglers and does not harm the seagrass.

Please find attached a summary of major points to put into letters of concern for the Oslo Road boat ramp expansion project, and a list of email addresses where we suggest you send them as soon as possible. Our administrative hearing starts at 9 am Tuesday, May 6-8 in the Indian River County Administrative Building in Vero Beach.  If we are unsuccessful then it is very important to get the Feds to stop this as the county needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Press Journal as well as St. Johns River Water Management District.  If you can only send two letters, send one to Tamy Dabu at the UASCE. But getting your concern to the others is also very important.  The same letter or slightly modified can be sent to all.

Your letter will be important in telling the world the importance of this issue to protect the seagrasses and mangroves and all the fish, manatees, birds, and other animals that depend upon them. Please send your letters today.

We appreciate your time and effort on this.  Contributions for our Administrative Hearing would be welcomed: PIAS, P.O. Box 1833, Vero Beach, 32961

Here are major points to put into a letter of concern for the Oslo Road Boat Ramp Expansion Project.

This project is in a county/state purchased conservation land, (Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area) adjacent to an aquatic preserve and a Federal shellfish area.

  • It dredges 215 ft. into best and only seagrasses left in Indian River County and fills 1.4 acres of mangrove wetland forest with a hard impervious surface for a parking lot and road widening.
  • This project will deleteriously impact essential fish nursery habitat for four of the most protected and intensely managed fish species within the State of Florida: for snook, spotted seatrout, tarpon, red drum.
  • Goes against the county’s own Manatee Protection Plan. It is the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation opinion that “the project is inconsistent with the Indian River MPP because the project represents a deepening of the access from the boat ramp, and an increase in the size of vessels that would be able to launch from the site.”
  • According to the County’s Manatee Protection Plan the County as twice the number of public boat ramp lanes needed to meet DEP recommended levels of service.  Riverside park (6 miles away) has a 75-ft.-wide boat ramp plus two 40 ft. long floating docks, 26 paved vehicle and trailer parking spaces, 118 additional parking spaces, bathrooms, picnic tables, drinking fountains, and an outdoor shower.  Four additional boat ramps and 10 parking spaces are at nearby MacWilliam Park.
  •  Impacts are inconsistent with the Manatee Protection Plan: page 55 “….there shall be no increase impact to manatee habitat, or the natural resources of the Indian River Lagoon, including   seagrass beds, water quality, estuarine wetlands, and mangrove fringe, attributed to the development or expansion of boat facilities or boat ramps in Indian River County.”
  • The Oslo boat ramp is in the largest area of manatee concentration in the county (Manatee Protection Plan).
  •  Impacts are inconsistent with Indian River County’s own Comprehensive Management Plan:  “The County will strive to improve water quality in the Lagoon, including that portion adjacent to the subject property (South ORCA)”
  • The boat ramp is in a Federal Shellfish Area, conservation lands, and next to an aquatic preserve
  • There is no mitigation for seagrass destruction.
  • The presence of rock indicates that this area was never historically dredged.
  • The following agencies and organizations have written against it: EPA, US Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, DEP Aquatic Preserve Manager, Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, Audubon Florida, Indian River Keeper Save the Manatee Club, Marine Resource Council, Coastal Conservation Association, Sierra Club, Pelican Island Audubon, Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area Volunteers, Kayak Renters, Wading and Small Boat Fisherman, and Scientists.
  • U.S. Representative Bill Posey sent his Chief of Staff, Stuart Burns, from Washington, D.C. to Vero Beach to pressure the USFWS to overturn their 2011 denial of the county’s permit based on threats to manatees.
  • Common Sense says: 45th St. (Gifford Dock Rd) or 69th St. are Great Alternative Sites-15 minutes from Oslo Rd.
  • Not in a Federal Shellfish Area requiring a Variance
  • Less Seagrass Destruction
  • Little or no Mangrove Destruction
  • Eliminates Unwanted Exotic Plants
  • Mitigates on Site
  • Less Expense to Build
  • Keeps OSLO Natural
  • Closer to the ICW-Intra-Coastal Waterway
  • Not in an Conservation Area or Aquatic Preserve
  • County owns the property

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