Several years after I became a conservation writer for B.A.S.S., the Rodman debate prompted me to question some environmental groups and their causes. As I did so, I realized that facts mean more than ideology for me, and that the facts supported not destroying the impoundment on the Ocklawaha River.
Two decades later, those facts tell me the same thing:
Florida’s Rodman Reservoir is a world-class fishery, a popular recreation area, a wetlands-rich ecosystem, and an invaluable water storage basin in a state that shows no sign of slowing growth. But for the environmentalists, ideology continues to trump reality. That ideology holds that man is not a part of nature and anything that he does defiles it.
Many times, the latter is true. But Rodman is the exception that makes the rule, as man’s meddling combined with Florida’s unique topography and climate to create a resource richer and more diverse than the river above and below it. Environmentalists, however, refuse to acknowledge the value of this 9,000-acre remnant from an ill-conceived canal project that was cancelled 50 years ago. They want it gone. Period.
Their latest effort involves extorting the City of Jacksonville to join them in their quixotic quest. For economic gain, the city’s leaders want to dredge the lower St. Johns River so that the port can accommodate larger mega-container ships coming through the Panama Canal. The St. Johns Riverkeeper threatened to sue to stop the dredging unless . . . .
That’s right, unless Jacksonville gets on board with the mission to destroy the reservoir on the upstream tributary of the St. Johns, 60 miles away, the Riverkeeper will oppose the project. Of course, the city has absolutely nothing to do with the reservoir or its management. Its value lies in its lobbying power in the Florida Legislature, which has steadfastly refused to authorize destruction of the fishery.
The argument for this unholy alliance is that taking out the dam at Rodman will somehow mitigate the damage done to the lower St. Johns by dredging. The hypocrisy is staggering. But the tactics of environmental zealots no longer surprise me. They pursue their causes with religious fervor and nothing --- not facts, not common sense, not popular opinion --- will deter them in their mission, whether it is to create no-fishing zones in our oceans, stop fracking, or destroy Rodman Reservoir.
"Make no mistake, when our economic development team is trying to recruit businesses to come here, they are selling the quality of life in Northeast Florida," said Daniel Davis, president and CEO of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce. "The St. Johns River is key to that quality of life and we need to pull together to protect it. The business community now is fully a partner in this effort to clean and protect the St Johns River."
Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman, meanwhile, added that the millions of gallons of water that would flow into the river once the dam is breached will mitigate the decreased water quality and other aquatic impact of dredging the ship channel from 40 to 47 feet.
"For nearly three years, we have worked diligently to protect the St. Johns River from the inherent risks of dredging," she said. "This unique partnership creates a new opportunity to fortify our river. While restoring the Ocklawaha will not address all of the dredging impacts, it would provide significant ecological benefits to the St. Johns."
Even the Times-Union newspaper joined in the misinformation campaign, editorializing that, by taking down the dam, “the water level would drop and a total of 20 springs stopped up by the reservoir would flow again. Also, wetlands would be restored.”
The truth is that no springs are stopped by the reservoir, nor is the Ocklawaha prevented from discharging into the St. Johns. The dam simply regulates flow. Blowing it out would result in a huge, but brief slug of water cascading downstream. After that, flow would return to essentially what it is now. Long-term effect would be minimal at the mouth, where the dredging would occur.
Additionally, far more wetlands would be destroyed than restored, as would fish and wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, and millions of dollars in economic benefits annually to the communities near Rodman.
Of course, all of these mean nothing to the true believers because they are the ill-gotten by-products of man’s defilement of nature.
Still, I suspect that this gambit will be no more successful than previous attempts to destroy Rodman, thus negating the agreement. And, if that is the case, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the Riverkeeper has to say about the city’s plan to dredge.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)