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Time is now to speak up on hydroplant plan

The state Department of Environmental Protection is holding a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Inglis Town Hall. The subject is a dredge-and-fill permit application for Hy-Power to build a hydroplant at the spillway dam on the Withlacoochee River Spillway Channel. This is not only an Outstanding Florida Water, but it's in the middle of the Greenways at that site.

The DEP wants to know what residents think. Whether you are for or against the project, I urge each of you to speak up; the DEP is listening.

Hy-Power will be there to tell you their unmanned plant is a good thing. But we need only to review history to keep from repeating our mistakes of digging near saltwater.

In 1881, Cedar Key bought an artificial ice plant from Ybor City. The plant was set up on one of the beaches, and, for some weeks, all went well. Fishing boats and the fish house enjoyed having ice and were looking forward to expansion of their commercial fishing industry.

Then the unexpected happened. Every surface well on the island suddenly became salty. Deeper wells were drilled, hoping to bypass the salt water. They were still salty, contained iron and reeked of sulfur. The ice plant was useless and was returned to Ybor City.

In 1966, Florida Power built it's Unit 1 plant on the Gulf of Mexico just south of Inglis. They drilled wells near the plant and ended up with saltwater. During storms, tides from the gulf washed over that area's wells, too. They had to drill new wells for fresh water 5 miles inland.

Then the Barge Canal was dug. They could only go down 12 feet when saltwater became a threat. In 1991, the governor and Cabinet signed a resolution to the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal government, stating, "The Barge Canal could have caused incalculable damage to the Floridan Aquifer and thereby threaten much of Florida's drinking water resources."

It requires a daily slug of fresh water from Lake Rousseau to hold back the threat. Tides from the gulf also bring in saltwater. The Spillway Channel that feeds the lower Withlacoochee River is parallel with the Barge Canal _ and only 600 feet away. The hydroplant must dig much deeper than the canal to install the 10-foot high turbine blade. The effect it would have is a great unknown.

The federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington has given Hy-Power a perpetual permit, which can be sold. The state of Florida has leased them the land for 50 years, with the condition of obtaining a dredge-and-fill permit from the DEP. The clock is ticking, and a decision must be made by Jan. 1.

Four bills in Washington would take away the requirement for utilities to have to buy power from co-generators. No transmission lines have been planned to run the 3{ miles to Inglis for Hy-Power to sell power to Florida Power.

If the dredge-and-fill permit is granted, they will still have a lease on the land, and no one knows what it will be used for when their power market dries up.

Citrus County, Inglis and Yankeetown are all interveners with the ERC against the project, and the ERC is having a rehearing. The ERC also is dependent on the DEP decision.

A dredge-and-fill permit for the marina was ruled against by an administrative law judge in 1995. He stated that "the Floridan Aquifer underlies the entire area. There is saltwater intrusion into the aquifer due to downward leakage of saltwater traveling up the canal. There also is upcoming of highly mineralized water within the aquifer. This is due to lowering of surface water to sea level in the Greenway Canal. Saltwater is several miles inland after digging the Barge Canal. Mineralized water will continue to move upward and perhaps laterally away from the canal.

"It cannot be concluded the facility will not cause adverse impacts on ground water levels and flows, and adversely affect public health and safety, and harm water resources within the district. A Wetlands Resource Permit requires Class III surface water quality standards will not be violated, and that the proposed project is not contrary to the "public interest,' " stated the judge in denying the permit.

Seven standards determine the "public interest":

+ Whether the project will adversely affect the public health, safety, welfare or property of others;

+ Whether the project will adversely affect the conservation of fish and wildlife, including endangered or threatened species, or their habitats;

+ Whether the project will adversely affect navigation or the flow of water or cause harmful erosion or shoaling;

+ Whether the project will adversely affect the fishing or recreational values or marine productivity in the vicinity of the project;

+ Whether the project will be a temporary or permanent nature;

+ Whether the project will adversely affect significant historical and archaeological resources; and,

+ The current condition and relative value of functions being performed by areas affected by the proposed activity.

The Greenways and Trails Department, which is pushing for the project, will be at the meeting, as will the endangered species specialists from the DEP, as well as those who are concerned about public lands being used for commercial purposes. What the public says Nov. 18 will have more effect than any petitions or letters to newspapers after the fact.

Send written comments to: Ken Huntington, DEP SW District, 3804 Coconut Palm Drive, Tampa, FL 33619.

_ Betty Berger lives in Inglis. Guest columnists write their opinions on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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