Legal Fight to Restore Florida’s Ocklawaha River Now at Federal Appeals Court

OCALA, Fla., April 28, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — The Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE) and supporters of restoring the Ocklawaha River…

OCALA, Fla., April 28, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — The Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE) and supporters of restoring the Ocklawaha River are asking a federal appeals court to reverse a lower court ruling and force the U.S. Forest Service to move forward with its longstanding commitment to remove the Rodman Dam. 

The original lawsuit filed by the Florida Defenders of the Environment and plaintiffs Joseph Little and Bruce Kaster charges that the state has operated the controversial Rodman Dam on U.S. Forest Service property without a required permit for nearly 20 years.

The state declined to sign a permit three times since 2002, according to the appellate brief filed April 22 on behalf of the FDE by land use and appellate attorneys Pamela Jo Hatley and Jane West. In 2002, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection acknowledged that it lacked funding to comply with the permit’s requirement to restore the Ocklawaha River and felt obligated to return use of the property to the Forest Service.

There is a long history of bipartisan support for deauthorizing the Rodman Dam, which has throttled the Ocklawaha River and damaged the region’s delicate ecology since its construction in 1968 as part of the ill-conceived Cross Florida Barge Canal project.

President Richard Nixon stopped canal construction in 1971, and that action was supported by succeeding presidents along with other Republican and Democratic elected officials over the years. Seven Florida governors have supported restoration, but neither Governor Ron DeSantis nor President Joe Biden has taken a position on the river’s restoration. 

The earthen dam has potentially dangerous structural flaws posing a flooding risk to downstream communities, according to recently disclosed records. Even so, the federal government has refused to live up to its commitment to restore the river and has declined to act until required to do so by the courts. The only other option to protect the public is for the state of Florida to draw down the reservoir until the dam can be removed. 

The case is Florida Defenders of the Environment et al v. U.S. Forest Service, Case No. 20-12046, in the U.S. District Court for the Eleventh Circuit.

For more information about efforts to remove Rodman Dam, contact Florida Defenders of the Environment Executive Director Jim Gross at jim@fladefenders.org or Defenders of the Environment attorney Bruce Kaster at 352-622-1600.   

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SOURCE Florida Defenders of the Environment