BROOKSVILLE — Last week, just as the Weeki Wachee River carrying-capacity study was about to start, a local business was before the County Commission hoping to use Rogers Park as a base for a night-time paddleboarding business.
But before Harry Johnson, the county's parks and recreation manager, even got in the first word, commissioners said no.
After enduring contentious public debate the last couple of years over the crowded mess that the popular river has become, and the shoreline and water degradation that has come with so many kayaks and boats, commissioners decided that adding to the mix was not a good thing.
"We've got this count thing going on and all of that ... I think that we should consider a moratorium on putting more stuff on the river,'' said Commissioner Wayne Dukes. He acknowledged that the study could determine that there is already too much use of the river and that some businesses would not be able to do what they wanted to do there.
"I think we're cutting our nose off despite our face,'' Dukes said.
He got little argument from his fellow commissioners.
"I'm a science guy,'' said Commissioner John Allocco, "when you're doing a study, you don't want to keep changing the variables or you're not going to get an accurate outcome.''
"I can see this as being pretty controversial given it's paddleboarding at night in a residential area,'' said commission Chairman Steve Champion.
The $250,000 study, which is being funded equally by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the county, is supposed to examine current usage, water quality and other issues and determine just how much human activity the river can stand. In the long run, the study is tied to securing approximately $6 million in future state funding to restore the Weeki Wachee River.
One of the main bones of contention is the fact that the vendor who operates the kayak launch at the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park has been allowed, under a pilot project, to launch up to 70 boats per hour, producing a potential daily usage far exceeding the 280 launches per day allowed in the park's own management plan. River advocates have been critical of the fact the state hasn't followed its own rules.
Meanwhile, new kayak launching locations have been popping up on properties all around the river, adding still more pressure to the waterway. The county has been working with the state park to establish a new kayak pull-out area closer to the launch site, so all of the state park-launched boats don't have to be pulled from the river at the county's Rogers Park.
Park use by another kayak vendor upset commissioners recently, when they discovered Johnson had previously approved another company using the launch at Rogers Park, despite his public comment to the contrary.
The proposal before the commission last week was for SUP Weeki, a stand-up paddleboard operator headquartered at a home on a nearby canal. Johnson said the owners, Jerry and Pam Napp, were aware of the concerns about use of the park and the river and had delayed bringing forward their business proposal.
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"We know there's a sensitivity,'' Johnson said. "The owners and operators of this business know there is a sensitivity for the use of the river for night-time paddling or any other activity on the river.''
Commissioners agreed to allow the Napps to talk to the county about a similar business plan based possibly at Bayport or Jenkins Creek, since using those county parks won't impact traffic on the river. Pam Napp told commissioners that option was of interest to them.
The carrying-capacity study, which will include taking camera images, talking to users of the water body and studying other conditions along the waterway including sediment collection, began over the weekend. It is expected to finish by July 2019, according to state officials. River dredging, also under study, is expected to occur in 2020.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.