Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Former SWFWMD Land Acquisition manager and expert, Fritz Musselmann, says County plans for Weeki Wachee Preserve are not appropriate.

Fritz Musselmann worked for the district acquiring environmentally sensitive lands totalling some 435,000 acres for nearly 40 years.  Much of that land was purchased with funds provided under such statutorily-mandated programs as Save Our Rivers, Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever.  The last two programs, Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever, were approved by a majority of Florida voters.  Funds came not from sales or property taxes but documentary stamp taxes generated primarily from private land transactions involving recently-arrived buyers establishing residence in their new home state.  This supports the concept that growth in the form of new residents should help pay for the increasing need to preserve at least a part of natural Florida for the future. 

In an email to the Hernando County Commission sent Sunday, July 6, 2014, Musselmann wrote: 

”Unless the laws, rules, regulations, policies and procedures governing SWFWMD have dramatically changed since the acquisition of the Weeki Wachee Preserve, the proposed "Nature Coast Educational Plaza" including its various components are without a doubt incompatible with the purposes for which the lands were acquired and the "passive" uses recommended for such properties.” 

Here’s his email in full: 

Dear Commissioners and Staff: 

My name is Fritz Musselmann, I retired from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD)in December 2008. During my tenure at SWFWMD (March 1975 to December 2008) I worked in the Land Resources Department and in July of 1982, I was selected as the Director of that department. In a nutshell, I was responsible for providing direction and oversight to the department which was responsible for Land Acquisition, Land Management, Land Use and Land Surveying services for the sixteen county jurisdiction covered by SWFWMD.  

On behalf of the Governing Board and taxpayers of the SWFWMD my staff and I negotiated, acquired and managed some 435,000 acres throughout the region including the properties referred to as the Weeki Wachee Preserve, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Bayport, etc. At the time the Preserve and Springs were acquired, Hernando County was very supportive and appeared to understand the notion that these properties were acquired to protect some of "Hernando County's most fragile natural resources". Resources that hopefully will be left intact for future generations of Hernando County residents and visitors to enjoy. 

It is obvious that Weeki Wachee Springs, Weeki Wachee River and Weeki Wachee Preserve are collectively the number one recreational/cultural venue for residents of and visitors to Hernando County. Unless the laws, rules, regulations, policies and procedures governing SWFWMD have dramatically changed since the acquisition of the Weeki Wachee Preserve, the proposed "Nature Coast Educational Plaza" including its various components are without a doubt incompatible with the purposes for which the lands were acquired and the "passive" uses recommended for such properties.  

It is difficult at best to truly understand what the County wants to build in the Weeki Wachee Preserve or for that matter, anywhere. A flyer I received from County Staff describes the "Nature Coast Educational Plaza" as a "Tourist Welcome Center, Educational Nature Center, Nature Museum/Conference Center/Auditorium including several hundred parking spaces, Plaza Grounds for holding large events such as tournaments and festivals, a beach and associated amenities". These proposed intrusive uses appear to also conflict with what many of us thought the "Nature Coast Experience" was intended to represent. Environmentally responsible entities build facilities such as those proposed by the County on the periphery of Preserves so as not to impinge upon the purposes for which the lands were acquired, core habitat and in this case an established wildlife corridor. Better yet, such a facility should probably be built on a major thoroughfare thereby providing visibility and access to more potential visitors. If you are trying to market the "Nature Coast Experience" you shouldn't compromise it by building in the Preserve.  

In 1997 consistent with building facilities on the periphery of conservation lands such as the the Weeki Wachee Preserve and in recognition of Hernando County's need for additional swimming opportunities, the SWFWMD as part of its "Plan for the Use and Management of the Weeki Wachee Preserve" and in coordination with the County, identified a site for a beach, swimming and picnicking area in the northwest corner of the lake complex adjacent to Shoal Line Boulevard. It was estimated that the site would double the County's existing capacity for swimming opportunities but the Board of County Commissioners did not have the political will to develop the site. If the County Commission wants to utilize this site and do the right thing, you will need to have the political will to develop and construct roadway and other necessary infrastructure improvements along Shoal Line Boulevard to accommodate traffic safety and the site.  

I have heard from County Staff the notion that building the "Nature Coast Educational Plaza" in the Weeki Wachee Preserve will somehow relieve some of the visitor volume pressures at the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and on the Weeki Wachee River. This is at best, nothing more than deferred political will. A number of years ago in response to community concerns about issues regarding the Weeki Wachhee River System, Hernando County had the vision to create the "Weekiwachee Eco-System Task Force". The mission of the Task Force which included representatives from local organizations, businesses, government agencies and residents from the community was "to preserve and prevent further deterioration of the Weeki Wachee River eco-system by identifying the issues impacting this system and to provide proactive and preventative solutions". If you truly want to maintain and protect the "Nature Coast Experience" for future generations you will find the political will to read, consider and adopt the recommendations in that report. Regardless of the Weeki Wachee Preserve, Weeki Wachee Springs and the river will likely always receive the highest user volume. After all, Weeki Wachee Springs (one of only 33 first magnitude springs)and the Mermaids are recognized worldwide. The Park is simply an iconic landmark.  

While I understand the County's desire to market the Nature Coast, I do not believe adequate attention has been given to the County's existing parks and associated facilities. I am aware of the necessary cuts in staff and services that local governments and state agencies had to endure during the recession. Much of the short and long-term maintenance of government facilities including park facilities was deferred. Only recently, did the Hernando County Property Appraiser announce that the County's tax base was finally starting to turn around. From a private business planning standpoint one would ask what the cumulative deferred maintenance costs and staffing needs will be on existing facilities before taking on more capital, maintenance and staffing costs for a new facility. Maybe the County has considered this but it was not evident when questions were raised in the two public hearings or in any discussions I have been involved in. 

If for example you want to "market" Pine Island Beach to be inviting to new visitors to the County, you should rethink the 23 signs of varying colors, shapes and sizes (ten at the entrance and thirteen just inside the entrance)advising visitors of what they can and cannot do. It is the epitome of sign blight. While I understand the need for the messages in those signs, there is no staff on-site to enforce the rules/regulations nor are there any lifeguards. It appears that since the cuts caused by the recession there is still little if any staff on-site at any of the existing County Parks which begs the question relative to staffing the Nature Coast Educational Plaza. In the two public hearings it was mentioned that there would be lifeguards on site which would be appropriate but contrary to the County's current practices at all of its other swimming venues. You must have the political will to adequately fund and staff your existing parks and NO, trying to spread existing staff to the proposed "Nature Coast Educational Plaza" will simply defer the inevitable and stretch staff resources beyond their ability to meet the real needs of visitors to the County and your voting constituents. 

I am hopeful based on the public input you received at the two public hearings as well as other input and observations that you will find a way to locate the "Nature Coast Educational Plaza" at an alternative site as well as remove any other proposed uses from the core or center of the established wildlife corridor. As well, if your primary unspoken goal is to market the unique attributes of the nature coast including its natural and cultural resources to increase jobs, visitor tax revenues and motel/hotel bed taxes, a more responsible, well-thought-out approach should be taken. You can start with a more professional and inviting sign at Pine Island Beach. 

Respectfully Submitted,
Fritz Musselmann
Spring Hill, Florida


  1. It seems that hernando county is trying to do what Pasco County is doing with Sun West Mines only hernando's are sensitive lands.

  2. If anyone most qualified to comment about Florida preservation lands acquisition and use, it's Mr. Musslemann. Thank you sir for your eloquent response in opposition to this proposal. Your voice speaks volumes. I would also anticipate hundreds of others also support your comments here. Hope you are also a sandspur in the barefeet of those newcomers to our State who simply see preservation lands as vacant Real Estate. Thanks again! -- Leslie E. 'Les' Sharpe (just another sandspur!)

  3. Pay close attention to the August Governing Board meeting where Hillsborough County is making a request to the Board regarding the highly successful SWIM restoration Schultz property. Seems the County is supporting locating the proposed ferry between Tampa, McDill AFB abd St Pete at this site. This was a property bought with State restoration monies (SB 444 I believe) and also Hillsborough County ELAPP funds. This was a hughly successful restoration winning several environmental awards. The County is pushing for it, the ELAPP staff muzzled, and it will e interesting to see how the District GB reacts. I've heard that they are interested inhearing just how much the County is willing to give them for the property. Hopefully they won't even consider it as the property was clearly bought for preservation purposes and the bottom lin eis, there is a limited amount of Tampa Bay shoreline left for restoration and it would seem no amount of money could a basis for destroying this site (over 1500 parking spaces planed). So it's not just the District leadership that is more interested in revenue generation than protection of the environment, it's also our local governments who have elected individuals with no conection to the environment they live in. Let's see what happens.