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Plan for canals hits a state snag

A plan to dig new canals off the former Cross Florida Barge Canal got put on hold Tuesday by the governor and Cabinet.

An attorney for Dixie Hollins will have two weeks to discuss the matter further with Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who raised questions about the plan during a Cabinet meeting.

The issue is a byproduct of the long saga of the barge canal. The canal was blasted as an environmental disaster and got killed in 1971. Now the plan is to turn the canal area into a "greenway," for recreation and environmental preservation.

To complete the greenway, the state wants to acquire 117 acres owned by Hollins in northwestern Citrus County. The 300-foot-wide strip of land borders the canal.

Hollins' problem is that he would lose access to the canal if he gives up the land, said his attorney, Jay Landers, of Tallahassee.

That's why he has proposed swapping the land to the state in exchange for the right to build the canals. The new canals would give Hollins the access to the water that he otherwise would lose, Landers said.

"All we're asking is, don't keep us in limbo," Landers said.

Butterworth complained about the deal, saying he did not want to allow Hollins to have "unrestricted" use of the new canals. Landers said the state agencies granting permits for the canals could impose restrictions.

But when it became clear that Butterworth opposed the idea, Comptroler Gerald Lewis suggested deferring the matter for two weeks. That might enable Butterworth's staff and Landers to come up with new language in the land swap agreement that would satisfy both parties, he said.

Landers said that in the meantime, Hollins is negotiating the sale of about 7,200 acres of nearby land to the state under a statewide recreation and environmental preservation program.

Both parcels are part of a family-owned ranch that once amounted to 20,000 acres, Landers said. About 4,000 acres were sold to Florida Power.

Hollins has not decided exactly how to use the remaining land, but wants to keep his options open by maintaining the access to the water through the canals, Landers said.