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'Bears win, we lose." Still no beach in Hernando Beach

Map of park and beach proposed in the Weekiwachee Preserve near Hernando Beach
Map of park and beach proposed in the Weekiwachee Preserve near Hernando Beach
Published Mar. 28, 2018

BROOKSVILLE — A conceptual plan by Hernando County to build a beach, kayak launches, fishing piers, trails and activity areas in the Weekiwachee Preserve adjacent to Hernando Beach appears to have met the same fate as the last attempt on a similar project. A dead end.

As they did in 2014, nearby residents urged against the park proposal over concerns about wildlife, traffic and its incompatibility with lands set aside to avoid development.

County commissioners spoke about the park at their meeting Tuesday. But with Chairman Steve Champion absent due to illness, remaining commissioners deadlocked on moving forward, essentially killing the project for now.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, owns the preserve and has been talking with the county since last summer about trading more environmentally sensitive county lands for less-sensitive lands near abandoned rock mine pits in the preserve.

County officials opened the discussion Tuesday saying the idea was simply a concept to get the conversation started. Nothing was decided, they said. It was just a way to show Swiftmud which recreational activities the county might want to provide in the future.

"We've been looking at this for a long time because it's a great thing,'' said Commissioner Wayne Dukes.

Commissioner John Allocco was concerned about the proposed park access off Shoal Line Boulevard. The conceptual plan showed the main entrance off the northernmost entrance to Hernando Beach South. Allocco liked the idea of providing recreational opportunities, but called the Shoal Line entrance "a real challenge.''

Why not use the existing preserve entrance on Osowaw Boulevard? he asked.

Commissioner Nick Nicholson said the county cannot use Osowaw, because it's a bear corridor. The new site would avoid both the bear corridor and a bird sanctuary that created concerns when the project was last discussed.

Commissioner Jeff Holcomb favored putting the park entrance somewhere that wouldn't negatively impact Hernando Beach residents, but his suggestions also were in the bear corridor.

"Okay,'' he said, "bears win, we lose.''

Holcomb would like a larger venue, possibly one that could handle tournament-like events, but said the Osowaw entrance seemed a better fit for that idea.

Residents had different ideas.

Diane Greenwell reminded commissioners that the community created a vision plan for Hernando Beach, placing passive recreational amenities behind the Hernando Beach water tower. At the same time, she said, the county was looking at a different site and a different plan.

"Help us protect the Nature Coast,'' she said. "Quit trying to make it an adventure park.''

Creating a swimming element in the preserve is "a solution to a problem nobody has,'' said Hernando Beach resident Vicki Anderson.

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"We do not need another swimming hole,'' said Jodie Pillarella. Teenagers who swim in the rock mines don't go there to swim, she said, but to be unsupervised so they can "drink alcohol and party.''

What the preserve needs is more enforcement, she said, adding "this is a nature preserve, and it needs to stay a nature preserve.''

Margo McConnell had another viewpoint. She likes the park concept. It's less about tourism, she said, and more about providing amenities for local residents.

County Administrator Len Sossamon asked whether commissioners wanted him to continue discussions with Swiftmud. Dukes and Commissioner Nick Nicholson said the idea is worth exploring, but Allocco and Holcomb said no. Dukes wanted to delay a decision until Champion returned, but Sossamon noted the next stop would be Swiftmud's governing board.

Once board members learn of the strong opposition, Sossamon said, they likely would not support a land swap.

Allocco supports finding another much-needed recreational venue for the county, but said the preserve didn't seem to be the right place.

"No matter what we do'' in the preserve, he said, "it's going to be fought.''

Without a formal action, commissioners ended the discussion.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

>>>Previous coverage:> A beach in Hernando Beach? What a concept

>>>Previous coverage:> Failure of Nature Coast's education and tourism center has lessons

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