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Waterway concerns draw 100 to forum

Topics include a hydroelectric plant proposal, a rafting center plan and muck removal.

It was billed as an opportunity for residents to learn the status of state plans along the Cross Florida Barge Canal and Withlacoochee River.

It turned into a forum for residents concerned about a number of developments in the basin, from a hydroelectric plant proposal to a possible white-water rafting center to muck removal in Lake Rousseau and the potential for flooding downstream from it.

About 100 people turned out near the Inglis Lock on Tuesday night for a meeting of the North Citrus Civic Association, including state Rep. Nancy Argenziano, who lives on the lake.

Mickey Thomason, regional manager for the Office of Greenways and Trails for the Department of Environmental Protection, had the task of fielding questions and comments. That so many people showed up is an indication of the many issues confronting the area, he said, and the history of activism from the surrounding community.

"I thought they had a pretty good turnout," Thomason said. "These issues get people's attention whether they live upstream or downstream."

Thomason was invited to address the civic group and other interested citizens on the proposed white-water project on the barge canal, a flood-mapping endeavor for the area and plans for rebuilding the Inglis lock.

He told the group that the prospective developer of the proposed $100-million white-water park, Rapid Pursuits Inc., is still drawing up plans and has submitted no formal proposal. Rapid Pursuits also has indicated to him an interest in holding public forums in the next four to eight weeks to field concerns and suggestions, he said.

He said that his agency is seeking state money to map the area to develop a flood protection plan and is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to create a plan for renovating the lock.

Residents took the opportunity to share their views on each issue, particularly the white-water proposal. Thomason said he was not able to speak about the proposed hydroelectric plant.

Larry Cohan, a member of Citizens for Saving Our Paradise, which opposes the white-water proposal, asked how the state rationalizes entertaining a public-private venture with state-owned land.

"That's an easy one to answer," Thomason said. "Revenue."

Thomason said the state is always looking for ways to raise money for the upkeep of its recreational land. Argenziano chimed in that she hears plenty of sentiment from people arguing that the state shouldn't just acquire land, but develop ways for people to enjoy it.

But all that traffic, and the likely disturbance of the Withlacoochee River, likely will harm an already ailing natural system, Cohan said.

"You may call it an Outstanding Florida Waterway," Cohan said. "It's a dead Outstanding Florida Waterway."

Men with shirts that read "Shut up and fish" and "Women want me. Fish fear me" decried the buildup of muck and invasive plants on Lake Rousseau. Argenziano asked the group to help her win support for legislation that would allow muck removal from clogged waterways.