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Bush might veto bill aimed at saving dam

The governor supports restoring the Ocklawaha River. The bill would establish a reserve around the dam, making that difficult.

By Associated Press
Published May 29, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush said Wednesday that he is considering a veto of a bill that would create a state reserve around Rodman Dam, thus making it more difficult to demolish the structure as part of the restoration of the Ocklawaha River.

Bush said he has not made a decision about the bill (SB 2042), but he favors tearing down the dam, draining Rodman Reservoir and restoring the Ocklawaha River to its natural state.

"I've had real concerns about that bill," Bush said in response to a question.

The bill, which passed the Senate 39-0 and the House 92-26, establishes a reserve that includes all of the state lands in the floodplain of the Ocklawaha River, from Eureka Dam in Marion County to the Buckman Lock in Putnam County.

The Legislature would have to approve any substantial change in the area if the bill becomes law, which would mean Bush could not remove the dam without its approval.

Bush said he thought he had a deal with Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, not to do pass legislation affecting the dam during King's two-year term as presiding officer.

King, who has a vacation home near the reservoir, strongly supports keeping the dam, which was erected in Putnam County in 1968 as part of the now defunct Cross-Florida Barge Canal.

President Richard M. Nixon stopped construction of the canal in 1971, and the 9,000-acre reservoir has since become a prime spot for fishing and water sports.

King said he had nothing to do with the passage of the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, and was not even sure it had passed.

Environmentalists have long sought the restoration of the Ocklawaha, and Stuart Strahl, president of Audubon of Florida, has written Bush urging a veto of the bill creating the reserve.

"The bill frustrates your goal of restoring the Ocklawaha River, a goal supported by all of Florida's major environmental organizations and most of its citizens," Strahl wrote.

Bush said his decision about a veto is made more difficult by the fact that the bill names the reserve for the late state Sen. George Kirkpatrick of Gainesville, an avid supporter of retaining the reservoir.

Bush said naming the reserve for his friend Kirkpatrick "adds a little dilemma, but we'll see."

[Last modified May 29, 2003, 02:00:42]

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