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Opponents of Rodman Dam are defeated

Environmentalists hoping to restore the Oklawaha River have packed up their maps and fact sheets and gone home in defeat.

Although lawmakers passed millions of dollars worth of tax breaks and special projects from Key West to Pensacola, they did not cut loose $3-million to tear down the Rodman Dam, which obliterates miles of the once-winding Central Florida river.

"We're certainly disappointed that they basically ignored all the people who went up there to support" river restoration, said David White of Florida Defenders of the Environment.

The dam was built in 1964 for a now-defunct public works project called the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Scientists say the dam prevents fish and manatees from migrating upriver. They also say there are beautiful springs hiding beneath the huge reservoir the dam creates.

A plan by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, to spend $175,000 to study the economics of tearing down the dam has also been abandoned in the final days of the legislative session.

Thirty environmental groups joined this year to push for Oklawaha restoration, but were unable to counter political resistance from North Florida lawmakers who like the dam and the bass-fishing reservoir.

Every study ever done on the Oklawaha has recommended tearing the dam down. In 1993, Gov. Lawton Chiles and the Cabinet voted to free the river after a taxpayer-funded $900,000 study recommended removing the Rodman Dam.

But the Legislature has refused to release the money to get the job done.

White said Florida Defenders of the Environment will continue its fight in other arenas. The Department of Environmental Protection is getting permits to remove the dam, even though there is no money to complete the project. White said supporters may look for federal funding to restore the river.

"We're in this for the long term," White said. "We've been working on this for 30 years."