Editor’s Note: Though scientists and others have warned that channel dredging and the construction of a new boat ramp at Oslo Road will endanger vital seagrass beds, damage fish nurseries and threaten marine mammals, the Indian River County Commission is moving ahead with the project.
Just yesterday, the Commission heard from Grant Gilmore, a leading lagoon scientist who is opposed to the planned dredging and boat ramp expansion at the eastern terminus of Oslo Road.
The St. Johns Water Management District finally approved a permit for a scaled-down project, but it now faces opposition from the Pelican Audubon Society and Vero Beach Ecologist Dr. David Cox. They have filed a petition to have the permit reviewed by an administrative law judge. The following guest commentary by Dr. Cox was first published by Inside Vero in September.
According to County Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan, the proposed dredging will not change the width of the channel, which has been in existence for some 50 years, but is simply intended to remove muck from within the channel. O’Bryan indicated that once the project is completed the boat ramp itself will still accommodate only one boat at a time. Available parking will be reduced, O’Bryan said, from unlimited parking along Oslo Road to a maximum of 12 trailer slots, with “no parking” signs installed along Oslo Road to prevent additional trailer parking.
DR. DAVID COX
Our Indian River Lagoon is dying. You can see it yourself, and read about it every day. 47,000 acres of seagrass have vanished. Manatees, pelicans, fish, and dolphins are dying in record numbers. The only remaining healthy seagrasses in the entire Lagoon run from just north of Oslo Road south to Fort Pierce. And so, now of all times, the Indian River County Board of County Commissioners wants to dredge and enlarge the Oslo Road boat ramp for more and bigger boat access in this unique, highly vulnerable location. St. Johns River Water Management District is willing to authorize this reckless expansion by issuing the County an environmental resource permit.
To prevent destruction of the endangered, critically important seagrasses and mangrove fish nurseries in the vicinity of the Oslo Road boat ramp, Pelican Island Audubon Society, Dr. Richard Baker, and I have filed a Petition for Administrative Hearing seeking denial of this permit.
The petition for administrative hearing, filed with the St. Johns River Water Management District on August 30th by attorney Marcy LaHart, urges that the permit be denied because, among other reasons, the proposed project will have adverse direct and secondary impacts on seagrass, juvenile fish habitat, manatees and water quality, and because destroying more than an acre of mangroves for a parking lot and a retention pond is not in the public interest.
The Environmental Protection Agency has formally stated the project will result in “substantial and unacceptable adverse impacts on Aquatic Resources of National Importance.” This expansion goes against the County’s own Manatee Protection Plan, and contradicts all recent, local and regional efforts to save our dying Lagoon. Dr. Grant Gilmore, whose studies of the Lagoon ecosystem span 40 years, wonders, “Why damage one of our last productive fishery nurseries and critical spawning sites? Only the fish and fishermen will suffer in the end.”
Anglers have used the existing Oslo Road site for generations and will continue to do so. Anglers don’t need an expanded, paved county road, enlarged parking lot and dredged channel that will destroy fish nurseries. Dr. Baker observes, “The reason seagrasses and fish nurseries are healthy around the Oslo boat ramp is that the area has never been dredged and is surrounded by healthy mangroves.” For years, County officials have also incorrectly stated that the unpaved road produces damaging runoff. Why, then, after over 70 years of road use, are the seagrasses, fish and birds still more abundant here than elsewhere in the Lagoon?
“The county has more than twice the number of public boat ramp lanes needed to meet the Department of Environmental Protection’s recommended level of service, including large boat launches at both MacWilliam and Riverside Parks, only six miles from Oslo Road,” notes Baker. However, if the county needs another boat ramp on the west side of the Lagoon, there are better alternative sites at 45th Street (Gifford Dock Rd.), or at 69th Street (North Winter Beach Rd.). Thus, there is no need for an Oslo Road ramp expansion that will irreparably destroy the environment.