Worth It or Wasted? Cross Florida Barge Canal - FOX 35 News Orlando

Worth It or Wasted? Cross Florida Barge Canal

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PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) -

It's considered by some one of the biggest political and economical boondoggles in U.S. history, and we continue to pay for a part of it each and every year.

The Cross Florida Barge Canal Project was hailed as the second Panama Canal -- a way to save time and money. Ships would no longer travel around the state. Instead, they'd cut straight through from the Gulf to the Atlantic. But a year later, the money ran out, the war ended.

Decades later, the same project was redesigned, this time to improve barge shipping times.

President Lyndon B. Johnson even showed up in Palatka, Florida to pull the switch that restarted construction. This new design included the Rodman Reservoir and Kirkpatrick Dam in Palatka.

Even then, opponents saw it as an environmental and political disaster.

State archive footage shows the President of the National Audubon Society from 1959-1967 stating, "I think the Cross Florida Barge Canal is one of the greatest boondoggles ever perpetrated on the Florida public and the United States public!"

Back then, it cost taxpayers more than $70 million to build the dam, and today, as the debate rages on about whether to tear it down or not, the reality is it would cost more cash -- tens of millions of dollars just to partially tear it down.

Current opponents point to archive video which shows nearly 5,000 acres of pristine swampland and cypress trees mowed down and crushed as partial reason for their protests.
       
That and the stunning fact the Cross Florida Barge Canal Project has never been finished, sticking Floridians with an unneeded dam, a ditch of water, and a hefty  maintenance bill. Florida taxpayers pay $300- to $500-thousand every year for the upkeep of the Kirkpatrick Dam and Rodman Reservoir, both of which are not really needed.

Erin Condon is the Executive Director of Florida Defenders of the Environment. She explains, "The federal government still has jurisdiction over part of it, but the operations and the costs are born by the state of Florida."  

Condon's group has fought for decades to at least partially tear down the dam, and restore the Ocklawaha River to its original glory.

She says, "Restoring the river and getting our water quality back, our springs back, giving manatees a new place to go, and giving canoeists and kayakers and other recreationalists this amazing resource back, is so much more valuable to the state. It cost so much to maintain it and keep it going for almost no benefit accept to a very select few people."

People who argue it would take a hundred years to restore the river to what it once was, ruining what opponents of tearing the dam down call the silver lining in this whole debacle: good bass fishing.

Tournaments bring in cash to Putnam County.

 FOX 35's Tracy Jacim asked Ed Taylor, Putnam County Commissioner and Save Rodman Resevoir, Inc. member, if people would still come to the area to fish if the dam was removed. Taylor said No.

When asked, "Why not?  There'd still be some good fishing out there," Taylor responded, "No, there wouldn't be. You can ask old time fishermen who will tell you fishing on the old Ocklawaha River was terrible because the current was too fast."

While folks on both sides of what some call the "ditch of dreams" continue to debate what should or should not be done, one thing is certain: you and I will continue to foot the bill.

"I would say it's one of the biggest boondoggles the state has ever experienced!" Condon says.

"We never said it should be built, but now that it's here, why throw buckets of money at something that isn't broken?" Taylor asks. "Once they started it they should have finished it."

Just last month the U.S. Forest Service agreed to consider partially tearing down the dam.  They are expected to decide within the next few months.

If they don't agree to, Condon says Florida Defenders of the Environment will sue the U.S. Forest Service.

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