U.S. Water News Online
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- State legislators have rejected a plan to spend $2 million to tear down the Rodman Dam and begin work to restore the flow of the Oklawaha River south of Palatka.
Three decades ago the federal government dammed the river, creating the Rodman Dam and reservoir. At that time a Cross Florida Barge Canal was planned, but the project was soon abandoned and was officially deauthorized in 1971. State officials have been arguing over the dam, reservoir, and river ever since.
"It's a major economic benefit to Putnam County," said Putnam County Administrator Gary Adams. "If we lose that we lose a tremendous asset."
Adams said the reservoir is as well-known a fishing and recreational area as the St. Johns River. Replacing the reservoir with a meandering Oklawaha River would have an economic impact of at least $1 million a year, he said. But opponents argue that flooding of the forest that took place when the dam was built has been destroying area wildlife. "The trees are all rotting because they have been under water," said Joy Mills, spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection. "Next to the Everglades, the Oklawaha is Florida's best example of what happens when you don't cooperate with Mother Nature."
Three years ago, lawmakers approved a plan to restore the river pending further study. In December 1994, a 20-volume report again recommended removing the dam. But last year, lawmakers added a section to the state budget that required the dam to be maintained until a final decision was made. Gov. Lawton Chiles challenged that action as unconstitutional and the state Supreme Court agreed.
Last fall, state environmental regulators began seeking the necessary permits to eliminate the reservoir. The state's plan calls for draining the reservoir, building earthen barriers to block a barge canal connecting it to the St. Johns River, bulldozing a hole 2,000 feet wide in the dam, and letting nature take its course.
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