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Residents make plea to protect 2 rivers

When Clyde Hindman first saw the Homosassa River in the 1950s, it was a pristine waterway brimming with fish.

But the forces of development have taken their toll on the spring-fed river and its southern neighbor, the Chassahowitzka River.

"Should these rivers be allowed to deteriorate further, we could lose them," the Homosassa resident said at a public hearing Wednesday night.

Hindman was part of a largely supportive crowd of 100 people who urged the state Department of Environmental Regulation (DER) to add the Homosassa and Chassahowitzka rivers to the list of Outstanding Florida Waters.

Such a designation would prohibit any new sewer plant discharges or storm-water runoff that would degrade the water quality of the rivers.

Roxane Dow of the DER said it probably will take another six months for her agency to prepare a recommendation for the Environmental Regulation Commission, a seven-member panel that makes the final determination.

Of the 20 people who spoke at the public hearing, only one was even mildly critical of the designation. Homosassa resident Leslie Riggs said it would create a costly regulatory maze for development permits and only would maintain the existing water quality instead of trying to improve it.

Riggs said he spent $70,000 to get permits to develop property on the Crystal River after the river had been designated an Outstanding Florida Waterway. That money would have been better spent rehabilitating the river, he said.

"You wind up spending a lot of money protecting your property rights but don't do anything to improve the river," Riggs said. Later, he said, "I'm for the (designation) but it doesn't solve the problem. That's my only complaint."

Even some of those who spoke whole-heartedly in favor of the designation wondered how much it would accomplish.

Homosassa resident Rick Omelian said it's only a starting point that might stop some boaters from throwing litter in the river by publicizing the need to protect them.

"It's actually degrading right before our eyes, and this is pretty weak medicine for a pretty strong problem," he said.

Most of the crowd seemed to favor including some of the canals that connect to the rivers within the proposed designation. Dow, the chief of the DER bureau of surface water management, said that's being considered.

Supporters cited a variety of reasons to protect the rivers, from protection of wildlife and fish populations to recreational enjoyment.

There was Duncan "Buzz" McRae Jr., a fishing guide and fisherman who was born and raised in Homosassa.

"Unless we protect these two rivers, I will lose my means of livelihood as well as a way of life I love," he said.

And there was Marion Knudsen, an environmentalist who lives on the Halls River, a tributary of the Homosassa River.

"When I came here, the Homosassa River was healthy," she said. "After 50 years here, I am healthier than the river."

And there was the 8-year-old son of Gary Maidhof, an environmental specialist for Citrus County.

"My name is Ian Maidhof and I go canoeing, fishing and crabbing in these rivers," the Inverness Primary School third-grader said. "I would like them to be in the Outstanding Florida Waters so I can catch more crabs and catch more fish in them. And we have to clean these waters up, too."

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