Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Time to Stop Rodman Dam Madness

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Time to Stop Rodman Dam Madness

Article excerpt

Byline: Ron Littlepage

There are myriad opportunities to catch bass in North Florida, but there is only one Ocklawaha River.

And that magnificent river, which is the largest tributary of the St. Johns River, hasn't been free flowing for a half century because of a monumental environmental mistake and the stubbornness of bass anglers who have had the ear of weak-kneed politicians for years.

President Richard Nixon prevented an environmental disaster-in-the-making in 1971 when he halted the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. But the Rodman dam, which was part of the project, had already been built and remains in place today.

Because of that dam, 9,200 acres of floodplain and forest are inundated by the Rodman pool, more than 20 springs are covered up by the pool's often stagnant water and the St. Johns is losing an estimated 185 million gallons of freshwater a day that it desperately needs to become a healthy river.

Every governor since Reubin Askew, with the exception of the current governor, has wanted the dam removed. Federal officials have said the same thing. But with politicians continually failing to act, litigation is the only recourse to remove the dam and restore a free-flowing Ocklawaha.

That litigation was finally filed this week by Jane West of St. Augustine, who specializes in environmental law challenges, on behalf of Bruce Kaster and Joseph Little, both of whom are attorneys who have been members of the Florida Defenders of the Environment for decades.

Here's the legal catch: The Rodman dam extends for 7,200 feet with about 2,800 feet of that sitting on land that is part of the Ocala National Forest.

The permit the state received from the U.S. Forest Service for the dam expired in 1998, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has not had it renewed.

The litigation seeks to have the dam removed from the Forest Service property, which West described during a Tallahassee news conference Monday as "an outright, unauthorized trespass of publicly owned land."

"It's unfortunate that we have no option but to proceed with a legal remedy," Kaster said, "to do what the Forest Service committed to do 10 years ago. …

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