WEEKI WACHEE — Long known as the place where the mermaids swim, the Weeki Wachee River got almost as much attention this year for being the place where kayaks clashed with locals while county and state officials struggled to find a solution to the degradation of the waterway.
Sparked by a tumultuous town hall meeting in 2016, State Senator Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, organized a task force at the state level to determine a course of action. During the Legislative Session, he won a $400,000 allocation to begin determining how to fix the ailing river.
That work was the first step in a planned $6 million restoration.
On the local level, Hernando County Commissioner John Allocco organized a meeting of county and state officials and local residents to begin addressing the issues facing the river.
They included bank damage from inexperienced boaters, new kayak businesses adding to the crush of craft launched at the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and the buildup of sand in the river.
Petition drives, crowded county meetings and reams of emails between interested parties kept the debate lively throughout the year.
It culminated this month in a decision by the County Commission to support and partially pay for a carrying-capacity study to determine how much public use the river can take.
Simpson is seeking more funds for river restoration. Government efforts to curb activities on the river have been put on hold until that study is completed.
Barbara Behrendt, Times Staff Writer