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Oslo Road boat ramp fight joined by fishermen, students

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS, (Week of August 1, 2013)

The Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, a 20,000-member organization of environmentally-minded fisherman, went on record this week opposing the county’s controversial plan to fill wetlands and expand parking at the Oslo Road boat ramp.

CCA Treasure Coast Chapter President Lange Sykes on Monday issued a statement he authored that has been adopted as the official position of the 31-chapter state organization.

It says in part that "CCA Florida strongly opposes any and all proposed expansion of the Indian River County Oslo Road boat ramp based on scientific data illustrating the prolific significance of the post-larvae and juvenile fish nursery at the current boat ramp location.”

According to Sykes, a 1,000-square-meter area adjacent to the boat ramp location “serves as a profound nursery for Tarpon, Snook, Red Drum and spotted Sea Trout, as well as many additional crucial fish species . . . which would be irrevocably impacted both by the scope of the proposed expansion project as well as additional environmental pressure from increased boat traffic.

“Given the current malignant condition of the Indian River Lagoon's northern section and prolific loss of sea grass, further degradation . . . may push one of the most biologically diverse ecosystem in the Northern Hemisphere over the proverbial edge."

The CCA joins a number of other organizations, agencies and individuals opposing the project, including the Sierra Club, Save the Manatee club, the Marine Resources Council, the Pelican Island Audubon Society and Indian Riverkeeper Marty Baum.

Opponents say the proposed work will endanger manatees and damage sea grass and fish populations. They point out the ramp is located within the boundaries of a state aquatic preserve in a high-use manatee area on property the county bought through the Florida Communities Trust Program primarily for conservation.

Vero Beach high school students have taken up the cause as well.

In May, Holly Hensley, a biology student at Indian River Charter High School who has been following the issue sent a letter to St. Johns River Water Management District, one of the agencies that has to issue permits before the project can proceed, telling the agency it will be “disappointing a lot of people who truly care for the lagoon [if it permits the project].”

IRCH junior Anna Kenny wrote St. Johns asking it to block the county’s plans, warning of repercussions “to our economy and the overall health of the already struggling lagoon.”

The students are joined in their opinions by Grant Gilmore, senior scientist with Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science whose findings were cited in CCA’s statement, Vero Beach-based ecologist David Cox, and Audubon Society President Richard Baker.

“With increased boat traffic at the Oslo Road ramp you will impact seagrass,” says Gilmore, “There is no question about that. The water at Oslo it is quite shallow and you will have people going through sea grasses, damaging them with their props.”

“The level of access that has traditionally been available at Oslo is appropriate for that site,” says Cox. 

Current facilities at the ramp were built in 2009 and are in like-new condition. The ramp is well-used by fisherman and boaters on weekends and there appears to be adequate parking.

Baker says Pelican Island Audubon Society is prepared to file an objection with St. Johns if the agency announces intent to permit the project. That would force the matter into administrative court.