Sunday, February 18, 2018
News Roundup

Residents push commissioners to rein in traffic on Weeki Wachee River

BROOKSVILLE — A new kayak landing spot in the Weekiwachee Preserve, more training for those who rent the popular watercraft, stepped-up enforcement of river protections and some political pressure to urge the state to reduce launches and study just how much is too much traffic on the Weeki Wachee River. Those were just some of the latest suggestions on how to handle growing pressure on the popular coastal destination.

Packing the Hernando County Commission meeting this week, local residents vented about how crowded the river has become. A video displayed by one resident showed kayakers clumsily colliding with a pontoon boat — something the residents said now happens frequently, putting the natural system and the safety of both residents and visitors at risk.

Weeki Wachee resident Paul Vermeulen urged the commission to act, explaining that his neighbors have become so frustrated with the river crowding and safety issues that they are selling their boats, their kayaks and their floating tubes.

"All of us living on the river can't even enjoy the river anymore,'' Vermeulen said.

The county legal staff explained that jurisdiction over the river is largely out of their hands, resting instead with state agencies. But residents persisted, urging the commission to exercise its political clout to control zoning violations where kayak launches shouldn't be happening, enforcing land-use rules on a paddleboard business located in a neighborhood, and urging meaningful action by state agencies.

Commissioners agreed to discuss the issue further after county staffers can do some research and bring back answers to the questions residents posed as to what authority the county can exercise. They said they would like to help where they can.

Weeki Wachee Gardens resident Roy Johnson suggested that the county could talk to the Southwest Florida Water Management District about pulling boats that are launched at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park out of the river from the preserve and not at Rogers Park, avoiding a congested area of the river.

Johnson also noted that, while County Administrator Len Sossamon touted new recreational facilities the county is looking to add at the Hernando Beach water tower and at Anderson Snow Park, people crowd the Weeki Wachee River because they want to be on the river.

Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said the river will never be the same as it was before so many tourists discovered it.

"You're never going to be able to stop the attraction of a beautiful blue river,'' he said.

Other residents said visitors need to learn how to operate kayaks properly and need to be told not to pull the craft onto shorelines, where they stomp down vegetation and add to the erosion that is clogging the waterway. Others spoke about the need for more signs, including regular reminders that alcohol is not allowed on the river.

Fritz Musselmann, a retired former land manager with the water management district, urged the commission to push for a formal study of how much boat traffic the river can be expected to handle, a long-recommended carrying capacity study. He noted that Swiftmud has committed to paying up to half of the cost, and he would like to see the county pay a quarter and push the state Department of Environmental Protection to pay the rest.

"Take some ownership in this. Demonstrate that as a County Commission that you really do want to see the river protected going forward,'' Musselmann said. "I am hopeful the results of that study can be used by the County Commission to implement some sort of regulations on the river.

"At least then you have a basis for adopting ordinances or regulations, and so do the Fish and Wildlife Service and the DEP."

Comments
Bubba Wallace emotional after Daytona 500 runner-up finish

Bubba Wallace emotional after Daytona 500 runner-up finish

DAYTONA BEACH – No, Bubba Wallace did not win the 60th running of the Daytona 500.But you wouldn't have known that after seeing his emotions after he placed second – the highest finish ever by a black driver in the Great American Race.Wal...
Updated: 2 hours ago
After Irma evacuation gridlock, new energy for Interstate 75 options

After Irma evacuation gridlock, new energy for Interstate 75 options

OCALA — In mid-2016, a regional task force that spent almost two years exploring ways to improve safety on a crowded Interstate 75 decided to take a conservative approach: make changes to the highway rather than build or expand other roads. Then Hurr...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Austin Dillon wins Daytona 500 after Aric Almirola wrecks late

Austin Dillon wins Daytona 500 after Aric Almirola wrecks late

DAYTONA BEACH – As Austin Dillon celebrated his Daytona 500 win Sunday, he couldn't help but remember the time he was standing there, in Victory Lane, 20 years ago this week.He was 7 then, and his index finger jutted into the air triumphantly t...
Updated: 4 hours ago
‘We had this monster living under our roof and we didn’t know.’

‘We had this monster living under our roof and we didn’t know.’

Nikolas Cruz was immature, quirky and depressed when James and Kimberly Snead took him into their Parkland home. But he was pleasant and seemed to be growing happier, they said.How the 19-year-old turned into a man now arrested and charged with 17 co...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Open-mic night at Pilars is a hot spot for Disney talent

WINTER GARDEN — At the end of the day, when the tourists are gone, Disney performers head out to their favorite spot to keep on singing after their shifts are over. Every Thursday, they perform at open-mic night at Pilars, a Winter Garden martini bar...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Broward program will give small-time offenders a big break

Broward program will give small-time offenders a big break

FORT LAUDERDALE — Pot smokers aren’t the only law breakers able to get a second chance in South Florida. Underage adults buying alcohol, those stealing property worth less than $300 and people nabbed for trespassing, loitering or disorderly conduct a...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Facebook turns to postcards to snuff foreign ads

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Facebook will soon rely on centuries-old technology to try to prevent foreign meddling in U.S. elections: the post office. Baffled in 2016 by Russian agents who bought ads to try to sway the U.S. presidential campaign, Facebook’s...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Parkland students to march on Florida Capitol to demand changes to gun laws

Parkland students to march on Florida Capitol to demand changes to gun laws

TALLAHASSEEAhundred students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland will travel to Tallahassee for a march on the state Capitol on Wednesday in the first organized protest of their #NeverAgain movement.Their demand: that Florida legisl...
Updated: 5 hours ago
EPA chief Pruitt cancels visit to Israel

EPA chief Pruitt cancels visit to Israel

WASHINGTON — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has canceled a nearly weeklong trip to Israel, agency officials confirmed Sunday.Pruitt, who had been scheduled to leave this past weekend for an extensive tour of the Mideast al...
Updated: 5 hours ago
As victims are mourned in Florida, a search for solace, and action

As victims are mourned in Florida, a search for solace, and action

PARKLAND — On the Sunday after Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lost 17 of its own, a minister in Parkland implored his flock not to let the horrific shootings lead them away from their faith."Our world is broken, but Jesus is not," the Rev. Eddi...
Updated: 5 hours ago