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Residents should support, not fear, plan to expand refuge office

Re: Residents express concerns about expansion of office, Sept. 3 Citrus Times:

Since the first small item in your paper about the neighborhood reaction to the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge expansion I have been thinking about responding. I am a member of the Friends of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, a former member of that group's board of directors and one of the original founders of that group.

We all should be proud and thankful that the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is located on Kings Bay. This is the only refuge created and dedicated to only one species: the endangered manatee.

The Wildlife Refuge, although managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within the Department of the Interior, belongs to the American people, not just the local neighborhood. Each of us has an ownership of these public lands. It is our responsibility to support and use our refuge wisely and to perpetuate our wildlife and wild lands heritage for future generations. This is the reason the refuge on Kings Bay should be able to build its proposed addition. They are there to protect and preserve the habitat and wilderness as it is and should be.

The residents who have signed the petition cite several problems with traffic flow and the fear children are in danger. Being a mother of three and grandmother of six, I understand those concerns. But I question the wording about playing in the streets. No child should be playing in the streets where there is through traffic, no matter the posted speed limits.

In the past five years, more than 20 new homes have been built in the area of Kings Bay Drive, and several have had additions built onto them. Most have two, and several have three and four cars per household. This is where the traffic is coming from, not the refuge office.

The refuge must have a visible presence on Kings Bay. It must be there to protect the manatee and the habitat. It must be there to answer questions from residents and tourists alike.

Like the refuge office, local residents also have a responsibility to protect the manatee and the habitat. This means working together to make the bay a safer, cleaner place for residents and manatees.

First, mandate a "No Wake-Slow Speed Zone" throughout the entire bay 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not for manatee protection alone but for land and seawall protection. Within a few years, yards and yards of soil can be taken from under your lot and washed into the bay. Every time a wake washes up on your seawall or exposed land you are losing property, and it is costing you money. No-wake zones protect property and stop water pollution.

Second, make it illegal to dispose of grass clippings and yard waste (including animal waste) into the bay water. I have seen this done every day by yard service people and residents. Yard waste causes water pollution, and animal waste is raw sewage!

Third, create a "neighborhood bay watch" from your own yard and in your own boat. Protect your space and teach others the correct way to do things. Join the existing manatee watch program during the winter months. There you can learn how to teach others about saving refuge area and instruct others about the manatee protection laws.

Finally, do something about getting the abandoned ship Bonner Lee out of the bay and out of your back yard. How can you, as responsible neighbors, fight a building while that ship pollutes your view and the water? That is what residents there should be signing petitions about.

Building an addition to the existing refuge office is legal and should not be viewed any other way than if a homeowner along Kings Bay wanted to do the same to his property. If it is done according to code and with all permits and fees paid, it is the owner's legal right to build an addition.

Having a good neighbor, such as the refuge office, will only make the existing residential property more valuable in the future. The new visitors center and garden area will add quality to the area. The new signs along U.S. 19 will create a traffic flow down Paradise Point Road and not along Kings Bay Drive.

Citrus County's manatee protection plan was brought to national attention just last month when Gov. Jeb Bush spotlighted our area and refuge system for its effective manatee protection plan. The refuge is now being proposed as the model all Florida counties should follow to preserve and protect manatees.

When you choose to reside in an area such as Crystal River or Kings Bay Drive, you must conform to it and its special way of life, not make it conform to you and your way of life. You have chosen to reside here, and that choice takes on special responsibilities.

I invite all of you to go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge office and talk over your concerns. You can get literature there about manatee habitat protection and you can join the "Friends Group" and be involved in the big picture.

The refuge management office on Kings Bay Drive must be enlarged and improved. It is important that a better interpretive center be available for everyone to learn about the manatee and its habitat. Along with a new building a new awareness of the area will be built.

Together we can make a difference. Together we can make Crystal River a wonderful place to live.

_ Kathy Evilsizer lives in Crystal River. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.