Strategic plan for Hernando coastline concerns business leaders and residents

Published September 4 2018

BROOKSVILLE — A strategic plan that guides decisions about Hernando County’s natural coastline would seem like an easy sell in a community that values its coastal character.

But last week, such a plan drew concerns from a wide spectrum of community players, so county commissioners delayed a vote until everyone better understands what the plan might do.

Commissioners were considering a 65-page document called the "strategic marine area plan.’’ It provided the data and analysis behind strategies written into the county’s latest comprehensive plan proposal.

Among other things, it addresses developing shallow reefs, researching oyster beds, determining the mix of recreational versus commercial fishing, and the county’s tourism future.

Hernando County is the first in the state to develop such a plan, a feat congratulated in a state planning magazine this summer. Members of the Hernando County Port Authority were recognized for their work on the plan and for involving stakeholders in developing it.

But some stakeholders said they were blind-sided when the document approval appeared on the commission agenda.

A representative of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, advocacy committee chairman Richard Sanvenero, urged the board to delay a vote on the plan "until the commission has had time to digest it. Measure twice, cut once.’’

Hernando Beach resident Judy Zelmer called the county staff’s description of an extensive public process "hogwash.’’ The only notices were non-specific, inch-long newspaper notices for Port Authority meetings in a small room at Linda Pederson Park, she said.

The report contained proposals that could have "wide-ranging, potentially negative effects on coastal land owners,’’ she said, including increased tourist traffic, more out-of-county boat access to waterways and an expanded commercial fishery. These activities, Zellmer said, could impact communities from Aripeka to Pine Island, "all of which are already over-stressed and deserve proper notification and information.’’

Commissioners also had questions.

Commissioner John Allocco wanted definitions of terms in the report, including "living shorelines" and "living seawalls.’’ He also was concerned that some pages had lines left blank.

Commissioner John Mitten said he didn’t know much about the plan.

"I don’t know if we’ve had enough time to vet it,’’ Mitten said.

The proposal is tied to the Restore Act, created in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Hernando County and other coastal communities impacted by the spill have worked for several years to identify projects they could fund with the millions of dollars expected from a legal settlement with British Petroleum.

County aquatic services manager Keith Kolasa said the plan came through the Port Authority and was developed with assistance from the University of Florida, Sea Grant and Nature Coast Biological Research Station.

The plan was designed to help the county prioritize and implement projects, manage coastal resources, coordinate with other agencies and foster education.

The plan calls for scientific study that will help the county understand such real-life marine issues as user demands on the Weeki Wachee River, and the impacts of recreational scalloping on the scallop population.

"Overall the theme is to promote conservation and provide a sustainable resource,’’ Kolasa said.

The commission decided to delay approval until the full comprehensive plan comes back for a final vote, which is expected later this month.

County administrator Len Sossamon said that anyone interested should read the document before the next hearing.

"I don’t think there is anything in there which is skullduggery,’’ he said.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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