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Hernando commission agrees with plan to place environmental center in preserve

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners gave an enthusiastic nod of approval to County Administrator Len Sossamon on Tuesday, telling him to proceed with efforts to secure a site in the middle of the Weekiwachee Preserve for the county's planned Nature Coast Education and Tourism Center.

The discussion was the first public opportunity for Sossamon to talk about a successful meeting last week with officials from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which operates the preserve.

The Swiftmud officials told Sossamon they would support placing the education center on former mining land inside the preserve, beside freshwater lakes created years ago during the mining operation.

Details of how that might work are still in the talking stages, but Sossamon described a time line in which he will seek input from conservation groups as well as the public in a series of meetings during the coming weeks. He plans to bring the concept drawings and a proposed letter of intent back to the commission on June 24.

If the time line is followed, the proposal could go to the Swiftmud governing board on July 21. In the meantime, county officials received more than 40 letters of support over the weekend from some of the same Hernando Beach residents who had opposed the center because it previously had been tied to a controversial rezoning proposal by Blue Pelican Marina.

County officials are also holding their breath over $3 million in state funding expected for the center; Gov. Rick Scott has not yet signed off on the state's 2014-15 budget. The county is also contributing $3 million.

Sossamon described his vision for the so-called Nature Coast Experience, which would surround the center. His thoughts include a 20-acre, white sand public beach, kiddie pools, fishing and kayaking.

"I think we can have a low-impact type development," he said.

Commissioner Nick Nicholson said the site inside the preserve "is a great location for numerous reasons." He said there would be room for expansion, and it is close to U.S. 19 for easy access.

"This is a great opportunity for Hernando County to create jobs and bring people here — another thing for Hernando County to be known for," he said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando commission agrees with plan to place environmental center in preserve 05/27/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 8:01pm]
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