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Manatee center loses support in Citrus

Crystal River may call itself the "home of the manatees," but it probably won't be the home of the federal government's manatee interpretive education center any time soon. City Council shot down a comprehensive plan change late Monday that would have allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a manatee education center, as well as an administrative office in a spacious home the agency owns on Kings Bay Drive.

Council members voted against sending the change to the Department of Community Affairs _ basically a technicality _ but federal wildlife officials said Tuesday that the council's failure to cooperate probably will end discussion of a manatee center on the site.

City officials stressed throughout the emotional meeting Monday evening that they don't oppose manatees, only the federal government's lack of following procedures. The government, they said, failed to comply with city zoning rules, community deed restrictions and its application to amend the city comprehensive plan.

City officials also warned federal officials that they will be cited if they try to move into their property.

For nearly two hours, council members, neighbors, manatee advocates and business concerns debated the deficiencies the city has identified in the Fish and Wildlife Service plan.

Council member Sid Kennedy said he hoped the council would transmit the plan to DCA. DCA officials then could back what the city had been saying about the deficiencies.

Not transmitting the proposed change to the DCA "keeps the battle on the local level," Kennedy said. "We can fight them, but we're never going to win if we don't do it with procedures."

Several city officials also expressed concern that they would be seen as opposing manatee protection if they didn't support the manatee education center.

"I never have sensed that this City Council was against the manatee interpretive education center," Mayor Curtis Rich said. "This question here is strictly following procedure."

Manatee advocate and president of Concerned Citizens of Citrus County Helen Spivey encouraged the city to support the city and blasted council members for past statements against manatee protection and the manatee center.

"I am surprised that as word spreads that you're opposed to all things manatee" that tourists don't avoid Crystal River, she said.

An education center "brings prestige" to a community. "People do not understand why you do not capitalize on the federal government's needs. They have to have an interpretive center on Kings Bay."

Sam Lyons, representing Citizens for Regulated Equality on our Waterways (CREW), spoke against the manatee center site.

"Neither I nor any member of our organization are opposed to the manatee education center in Crystal River," Lyons said. "We are opposed to the site that has been selected and the manner in which this thing has been conducted."