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Drought's upside: dredging time

The county hopes to scoop more than 131,600 truckloads of muck from the bottom of the Tsala Apopka lake chain while the lake levels are low.

By ALEX LEARY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2001


The county hopes to scoop more than 131,600 truckloads of muck from the bottom of the Tsala Apopka lake chain while the lake levels are low.

INVERNESS -- Seeing opportunity amid the dismal drought, the county is seeking a federal permit to scrape 2.6-million cubic yards -- more than 131,600 truckloads -- of muck from the bottom of the Tsala Apopka lake chain.

The work, which would be conducted over a 10-year period, represents the largest project of its kind ever attempted by Citrus County and would cost $26-million, according to preliminary projections.

"Provided there aren't any red flags raised during the public comment period, we would expect to have a permit by the end of April," said Tom Dick, the county's aquatic services director.

The permit request was submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this month. As long as the dredging does not exceed 3 feet, state permission would not be needed because the county already has aquatic permits.

Time and money would dictate when the dredging would begin and how much of the dark brown vegetation could be removed. The county is hoping to pay for at least some of the work with state funds used to control aquatic weeds. That problem is less pressing because of low water levels.

"The lake chain is lower now than what we could possibly artificially lower it down to," Dick said. "This gives us an opportunity to use conventional heavy equipment -- bulldozers, backhoes and so forth -- to remove the muck."

State Rep. Nancy Argenziano and U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman are seeking funding from their respective legislative bodies, and the county intends to ask the Southwest Florida Water Management District for assistance, Dick said.

"We're asking everybody," County Commissioner Vicki Phillips said. "Now is the time to do it." Removing the dead vegetation, she said, would improve water quality and flows, enhance fish and wildlife habitats and make it easier for boats to get around.

One does not have to look far to find supporters. Lois Reckenwald, who owns a lakefront home in Inverness, had to have her 20-foot pontoon boat removed with a crane. While the boat was being cleaned, she got stuck in the muck.

"It's like quicksand. It frightened me; I didn't think I was going to get out," said Reckenwald, 75.

"They need to get down to the sand, and the sand is at least three feet below the muck," she added. "If that was taken out, we would have that much more surface to store water. It would be sort of like a natural reservoir."

Priorities have not yet been established, but the muck would be removed from pools in Floral City, Hernando and Inverness. Dredging would occur in 544 acres of navigation trails, which are about 25 feet wide and run parallel to the shoreline.

If all 2.6-million cubic yards of muck are removed, the county would fill about 131,672 trucks. The typical truck holds 20 cubic yards, Dick said. Dredging each cubic yard costs about $10, though the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has shown it can do the work for less.

The trucks may not have to travel far, saving transportation costs. The county hopes to spread the dead vegetation on privately owned uplands. "If you land spread it and till it into some poorer-quality soil, it tends to be an enrichment factor," Dick said.

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