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Changing Gears on Ft. Island Trail Bike Path

My favorite sports talk radio host does a popular segment every Monday in which he lists different comments he’s made that turned out to be right as well as an equal number of times that he was wrong. While any column would have to far exceed my 750 word cap in order to give an exhaustive list, today’s will have some of each based on new information from the public hearing that took place before Tuesday’s regular commission meeting.

Before getting to that, though, the most discussed news of the week has been gas prices rising with 250+ comments on the Chronicle Facebook page. The local story to attract the most comments was the Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to seek a new law to combat disruptive behavior, particularly targeting boaters in Homosassa. Neither of these will be included in what follows but are notable stories for what is being talked about.

Let’s start with where I was right. In the public workshop, the BOCC estimated the shelter will now cost the full $9 million of the proposed $8-9 million window, which is the base cost before the privately funded add-ons.

This confirms what I have been predicting although stopped short of voting to use all private funds collected so far toward the add-ons rather than the shelter. While the Citrus County Foundation for Animal Protection’s fundraiser has been transparent with how the funds will be used explicitly saying they are for the add-ons, the Chronicle’s fundraiser has been framed as going to the shelter itself which is misleading.

The BOCC demonstrated at the public hearing that it is willing to look at a plan with a proposed amount of money and find ways to reduce costs. Two dog parks were proposed to be paid with park impact fees and the commission discussed removing the water fountains, changing the layout and doing many other suggestions to cut a mid-five figure project down even further. This is exactly what we argue should be happening with the shelter that has instead gone the other way, turning a mid-seven figure project into what will most likely be a low-eight figure one.


The main topic of discussion in the public hearing, however, was one where we have been wrong. This is in regards to the Ft. Island Trail bike path. We have previously argued on behalf of the bike trail.

The meeting uncovered that the project is a potentially much costlier mess than the animal shelter, although the funding would come from two different sources. The trail right now is called a “proposed widewalk” rather than a multi-purpose trail because it is only 8 ft. wide. The BOCC is hoping to fund the trail using Suntrail money from the state and a proposed widewalk would not qualify. They directed the engineer to bring back a plan to get at least 10-12 ft. wide.

However, this means extending even further into the saltmarsh in some places where it is already extremely tight. At just the 8 ft., the cost was $582,000/1,000 ft. and this is before elevated paths or bridges. The extension farther into the marsh would exponentially increase the cost as well as the Board asks for the widening.

Commissioner Jeff Kinnard proposed doing some parts of the trail where you had more space as Suntrail compliant to try to qualify for money in phases rather than the whole project. This was an idea better than Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach’s proposal who repeatedly asserted her desire to raise the sales tax a full cent, at one point playfully joking with Commissioner Kinnard that maybe he wasn’t a good enough salesman for the issue when he had received pushback during his townhalls for suggesting the same thing.

We won’t know if the plan is Suntrail compliant until the review process restarts on July 1. This will be the biggest hurdle to its completion. One of the main factors Suntrail looks at is the connectivity with other trails.

That’s going to be a problem. While the board says it connects to parts of a Hwy 19 trail, no cyclist is going to risk that part of the connection when tired after an 18 mile (9 out and 9 back) ride.

It also overlooks that most cyclists want a destination that can provide food or shade to rest, neither of which can be found at the beach. The project should be explored, but I was wrong to be so gungho.

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