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WEEKI WACHEE -- Hernando County commissioners are talking, but the possibility of making Weeki Wachee Springs a county park is still far away.
Commissioners discussed the idea Tuesday, noting the important economic effect that the 60-year-old tourist attraction has on the county.
Talk about making the mermaids officially part of the county began when attraction spokesman John Athanason made contact with four of the five commissioners last week Dave Russell was unavailable.
"We just wanted to put it out there and see if they're interested," Athanason said. "It's something we would love to pursue. And keeping money inside the county would serve the citizens best."
Amid local discussions, different plans were being unveiled in Tallahassee.
Earlier Tuesday, state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole said that the department received notice on Monday that Weeki Wachee Springs LLC planned to donate the springs and water park to the state. The state would turn the attraction into a state park and keep the mermaids and their show.
The DEP and Weeki Wachee have been discussing the idea since summer. Athanason said Tuesday that discussions would continue with DEP until a final agreement is made.
"Sure, we've been talking with the state for the last couple of months," Athanason said. "But it might come to pass that we'll be a better county park than a state park. This is not a done deal by far."
County officials have since contacted Weeki Wachee landlord Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the land on which the attraction sits. Commissioner Chris Kingsley, interim County Administrator Larry Jennings and County Attorney Garth Collerhave all spoken with various Swiftmud officials about the attraction's current legal standing.
"We could run a park as well as the state could run a park," Kingsley said Tuesday.
Since 2004, Weeki Wachee and Swiftmud have been caught up in a legal battle that's since led to a second round of court-ordered mediation. The DEP has also been included in those talks, which began in October.
Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Hanke said the water district had no comment Tuesday as mediation with the attraction continues.
Commissioner Diane Rowden said that she hopes the county will be part of talks about the fate of Weeki Wachee, regardless of who ends up taking it over.
"I read through that DEP letter, and nowhere it in did I see Hernando County," Rowden said. "Weeki Wachee is in Hernando County and I think it's important that we all be at the table to listen to what's going on."
As for making Weeki Wachee a county park, she said that more discussions must take place before the idea is deemed possible.
"You need to know the monetary restraints or benefits," she said. "There could be a lot of both but you just don't know until you sit down and put pencil to paper."