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County okays forming water advisory panel

Residents living in the Lake Tsala Apopka Basin say the move is long overdue. The board's five members and two alternates will be appointed by the commissioners.

Times coverage
Current watering rules
By BRIDGET HALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


INVERNESS -- County commissioners voted Tuesday to create the Lake Tsala Apopka Basin Recreation and Water Advisory Board, a five-member panel that will advise the commission on water quality issues for the chain of lakes.

The board will include one member each from the Inverness, Hernando and Floral City pools, plus two at-large members and two alternates from anywhere within the county. Members will be appointed by the county commissioners to serve 2-year terms.

Anyone interested in serving on the volunteer board should send a resume and letter of interest to the county commission.

Residents around the 19,000-acre lake chain told the commissioners that the advisory panel is long overdue.

"I'm sure each and every one of you has looked at the lakes," said Frank Robinson, president of Taxpayers Outraged Organization for Accountable Representation. "It's not a pretty sight."

The board will work to implement the recommendations of a recent University of Florida study, which calls for testing the levels of fecal coliform and heavy metals in the lakes, and removing the muck from shorelines and canals.

The study also suggests the board conduct several surveys, including a look at how and why people are using the lakes, and a study of the fish and birds in the lake system, so the board can devise the best lake management plans.

Commissioners and residents also hope the advisory board will take a lead role in working with state agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, to line up grants and projects that would help the lakes.

"If we don't speak up for ourselves, no one will," Floral City resident Wayne Sawyer said. "And if we don't go for what's available out there, other counties will."

Commissioner Jim Fowler said that according to numbers provided by the property appraiser's office, 3,540 homes line the shores of the lake chain. Thousands more homes sit close to the lakes, if not on lakefront property, he said.

Raising money to fix the ailing lake chain, Fowler said, could be a tricky issue.

If the county creates a Municipal Services Benefit Unit for the lakes, it can only charge an annual fee to those who directly benefit from the upgrades to the lakes. That could be construed to mean only those residents whose property sits on a lake, but money from just 3,540 homes would not be enough to pay for significant improvements, Fowler said.

An act of the Legislature could create an elected water board, which would then have the authority to raise money for water projects through taxes.

The process of creating an elected board would take at least a year, and commissioners decided they wanted a group to start addressing the lake chain problems immediately. Commissioners also said it should be up to the water board to decide how to raise money and whether to replace themselves with an elected board.

"I believe this is necessary, and we need to move forward with this," Commissioner Vicki Phillips said. "We should let the people do their work so they can bring their suggestions back to the board as soon as possible."

In other news:

FIRE STATION: The board finalized its purchase of a lot that will eventually be the site of a Floral City fire station. The property, at 8872 S Florida Ave., cost the county $20,900. County officials said the Floral City fire station on County Road 48 is getting old and does not have room for expansion.

UTILITIES: Commissioners agreed to help the new utilities regulatory director, Robert Knight, with his duties by giving him funding for a senior secretary. The assistant will help Knight field the customer calls and complete the paperwork that goes with regulating the 12 utility companies in the county.

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