|The President’s Hoot|
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
In 2014, over 2,300 citizens signed petitions against the Oslo Road boat ramp dredge-and-fill project. Over 100 protested before the Indian River County Administration and then filled the commissioner chambers. Anglers from the Coastal Conservation Association, professional fishing guides, boaters from the Power Squadron and kayak renters, Marine Resources Council, Save the Manatee Club, Sierra Club, Audubon, and scientists like Drs. Grant Gilmore and Edie Widder raised serious questions about this project to pave the road, expand the parking, and dredge the channel. These groups and individuals made it very clear to the Commissioners why this critical habitat is so important for the gamefish. Few spoke in favor of expanding the boat ramp area. The commissioners voted 3-2 to postpone a decision for three to five years.
Now exactly three years later, the Indian River County Commission voted 4-1 to revisit paving the road and parking lot, dredging the channel, and installing more channel markers. Let’s review some remarks at the October 24, 2017 commission meeting: “Clearing some of the exotics” should mean removing exotics like Brazilian pepper, not mangroves (native plants) that now line the road and parking area. “Removing the muck” should not mean dredging over 270 feet to remove sediment that has never been dredged before setting the precedent for future dredging to the Intracoastal Waterway so bigger boaters can plow through this pristine fish nursery area. “Paving the road” will lead to having larger trucks with boat trailers and traffic speeding down this road, thus justifying building further large boat parking into the mangroves.
“If we don’t move forward (revisiting the project), then we really aren’t committed to helping the lagoon” said Commissioner O’Bryan in the November 7, 2017 Press Journal article. The lagoon has the healthiest seagrass beds in our county surrounding the Oslo boat ramp area. Why ruin it with paving and dredging even more? “If it ain’t broke why fix it?”
Why does the county want to spend tax dollars to dredge a new channel? It allows larger boats (eventually) to use the ramp. Small boats and low impact wading anglers do fine with existing shallow depths. It harms the best critical nursery habitat for spotted seatrout, red drum, snook and tarpon. It is in a Federal Shellfish Area where by law disruption is not allowed without obtaining an exception, and is in an aquatic preserve, near a bird rookery and surrounded by a conservation area. The county’s own Manatee Protection Plan is violated due to the project causing more boat traffic and thus more manatee deaths in the county’s largest manatee area. Dredging produces a longer channel allowing more sediment to accumulate.
The existing road has not harmed seagrasses for the last 70 years. Paving will allow more oil, grease, rubber and other pollutants to run off the impervious surface into the water. The county already has nearly twice the number of public boat ramps to meet State recommendations. High impact users with big, deep boats can use existing boat ramps at Riverside Park, MacWilliams Park, Round Island Park, and the North Causeway Park (St Lucie County). The county can work with the City of Vero Beach to provide a marina at the old power plant with fewer sensitive natural resources, without harming manatees, healthy seagrass beds, fish nurseries, and mangroves!
The U.S. Corps of Engineers has NOT approved the project. Please call or write Andrew Phillips (321-504-3771 x 14), Project Manager, ACOE, North Permits Branch, Department of the Army, 400 High Point Dr., Suite 600, Cocoa, FL 32926 and ask they not approve this project.
This project creates a severe environmental problem, and also a social, economic, and moral issue. Please, on behalf of the fishes, manatees, seagrass, birds, and taxpayers, help STOP this project.