Their latest, however, arguably is the most creative. They have enlisted the aid of the Jacksonville business community to help them put pressure on Florida’s legislature to remove the dam on the Ocklawaha River, a tributary of the St. Johns.
Terms of their odd-couple alliance do not sit well with many, including Save Rodman Reservoir (SRR), which accuses the St. Johns Riverkeeper of using the 9,000-acre impoundment in Putnam County as ransom.
SRR spokesman Kae Andry said, “It is also very troubling and inexcusable that no one in the Putnam County Commission or Putnam County Chamber of Commerce was included in the discussions that led to this coalition of business and environmentalists. Do Palatka and Putnam County not count because they are poor?”
Veteran outdoor writer and Jacksonville resident Bob McNally added this at Jacksonville.com:
“To me, this type of political deal-making is nothing short of environmental extortion, using Rodman Reservoir as a pawn to appease those who want the dam removed, while business and political forces get their way by dredging the lower river from 40 to 47 feet.”
Business interests in Jacksonville want that dredging done so that the city’s port can accommodate new and larger mega-container ships coming through the Panama Canal. The Riverkeeper, however, threatened to sue to prevent the dredging because of environmental concerns.
Discussions followed, and the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Jacksonville Port Authority, and the City of Jacksonville agreed to work with environmentalists to destroy Rodman in exchange for a go-head on dredging. In other words, taking out the impoundment will be “mitigation” for the damage done on the lower river.
One of the first to sound the alarm about this new threat was Roger Weaver, president of the Jacksonville Johns Bass Trail, a club for jon boats only. He and his members made phone calls and sent e-mails sounding the alarm, including to SRR and B.A.S.S.
“We also went to the Rally for Rodman at the dam,” he said. “And we are putting on a tournament at Kenwood boat ramp on Feb. 15, with 80 percent as prize money and 20 percent going directly to Save Rodman.”
Additionally, the 19th annual Ed Taylor SRR Bass Tournament is set for April 18 at Kenwood Landing, and, with this new attack on Rodman, robust attendance is critical for this annual fund-raiser.
The tournament is named in honor of SRR’s long-time leader, who died in late 2013. Larry Harvey, the new president admits that filling Taylor’s shoes as Rodman champion will be difficult, but he looks forward to the challenge.
“We are reorganizing many areas of Save Rodman,” he said. “We have a great board and great support people ready for us to call when the battle begins.
“The battle that I am speaking of is the battle to stop those who want to tear up this wonderful ecosystem . . . The reservoir is vital to the residents of Florida, Putnam County, and Marion County. It provides jobs, recreation, food, a beautiful place to live, and a peaceful existence.”
Additionally, he added, Rodman features abundant wetlands that act as a filter for the water before it flows through the dam and into the St. Johns River.
More than 50 years ago, Rodman was built as part of an ill-conceived Cross Florida Barge Canal, which was intended as a shortcut for ships going from the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico. The project was killed well before completion, but the reservoir on the Ocklawaha River remained.
For more than two decades, environmental groups have lobbied and petitioned for the dam to be destroyed and the river “restored.” SRR was created to defend the impoundment which has become a wildlife magnet, one of the state’s most popular recreation areas, and a trophy bass fishery. Additionally, it appears more and more likely that reservoir will be needed for public water supply as the state’s population continues to grow.
But all of those benefits mean nothing to the St. Johns Riverkeeper, Florida Defenders of the Environment, and now, evidently, the City of Jacksonville.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times)