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Hernando County deciding how to improve coastal boat ramps

Responding to survey of boat ramp users, county plans to expand and improve coastal facilities.

HERNANDO BEACH — From parking at Bayport to congestion at other coastal boat ramps, local boaters had plenty to say at a Hernando County workshop last week about water access.

About three dozen people gathered at the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Hernando Beach to offer suggestions to county officials finalizing a list of boat ramp improvements proposed at Rogers Park, Hernando Beach, Bayport and Jenkins Creek.

The next step, according to county waterways manager Keith Kolasa, will be to seek funding from the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement, and from the County Commission, which controls the county’s capital improvement plan.

County staff members have worked with Cardno Engineering for a year and a half to develop a master boat ramp plan. They gathered information from users through an online survey, as well as interviews at local ramps on the busiest boating days in 2018 — the start of gag grouper and scalloping seasons in June and July.

On those busy days, Bayport saw the most launches, Kolasa said.

"Obviously, people are being creative'' in finding places to park at Bayport, he said, including on roadsides and in ditches. The park has 46 official spaces.

All of the coastal ramps ran out of parking spaces at the start of the scallop season, and surveys showed more boaters from outside the county at Bayport than at Hernando Beach.

Ramp users complained about parking, the difficulty of launching and having to wait too long to launch. They were launching boats for fishing, pleasure boating and wildlife viewing, Kolasa said.

At Bayport, a short-term fix would remove 23 “problematic” trees to create 25 new spaces. A long-term plan would eliminate obstacles and turns to improve access to the ramp and parking.

The tree removal concerned resident George Foster, he said last week, while others in the audience were okay with eliminating trees to make room for more parking.

Some majestic trees would remain at Bayport, Kolasa said, adding that "we’re looking for a balance here.'' The interim plan would remove 23 of the 177 trees onsite.

"You just can’t keep accommodating more and more people,'' Foster said.

Rocks in the Bayport launch area and shallow conditions at the Jenkins Creek ramp were other concerns voiced by residents and boaters.

Frank Santo, chairman of the Hernando County Port Authority, suggested dredging at Jenkins Creek to allow small boats to launch there and eliminate having them hang up in the shallow water. He also asked if the county had explored buying the business property adjacent to Rogers Park, which had housed a restaurant, as a way to expand the constrained recreational area.

Someone else recently bought the site and plans to open kayak rentals and a new restaurant there, said Harry Johnson, who oversees county parks and recreation.

Hernando Beach resident Charles Greenwell asked for an update on the Hernando Beach boat ramp parking. Several months ago, the County Commission bought two of four available parcels between Calienta Street and Shoal Line Boulevard. The buy was controversial because residents had documented that the existing lots had plenty of parking except for on peak-usage days. The county spent $400,000 on the four-acre purchase.

The purchase allows the county to realign Petit Lane, officials said, which brings traffic to the boat ramp at a severe angle that can be difficult to negotiate. Any leftover land might be used for more parking, said county public works director Scott Herring.

Early morning fog lifts with the sun at the Hernando Beach public boat ramp. It was part of the master boat ramp plan discussed in a workshop with the Hernando County Port Authority. [Michele Miller]

Design work on Petit Lane has not begun, Herring said, and the county is still considering the purchase of a parcel owned by Gordon Wolf as a site for more boat trailer parking.

The Hernando Beach ramp has 71 spaces, but could have between 125 and 175 when work is done, according to county estimates.

Kolasa said he hopes to take the final boat ramp recommendations to the County Commission in March or April. Grant applications are due for at least one program in April. Community comments will be part of the packet considered by commissioners.

Anyone interested in reviewing the discussion and the plans can view them on the county’s website.