Looking Forward

Now we successfully built an organization. HRRP had to determine what was possible, and establish a budget. But how could we build support and consensus in Tallahassee?

The Board of Homosassa River Restoration Project, Inc. (HRRP) set out to gain support. A project large enough to change a river takes a lot more funding than we had raised already. We had to think bigger, and bigger meant engaging our State leaders.

Engaging Leaders

In February 2017 HRRP sent representatives to our state capital Tallahassee for Legislative days. Legislative days is when our State Representatives and Senators have (sort of) an open house. Members of delegations from  Citrus county and elsewhere, travel to bring “one to one” messages to leaders. Groups of people representing a cause or idea often attend these sessions trying to gain access to their representatives. Representative Ralph Massullo MD and Senator Wilton Simpson both gave us time for appointments. They helped our group to understand the legislative process. What we learned from this visit was that there was a systematic approach to use when working with the State Legislature.

Senator Wilton Simpson
Florida Senator Wilton Simpson

Something we did had an effect. In March 2017 our project had a line item the proposed 2017-2018 State budget. That line item was for $850,000. We were so enthusiastic. But the final budget came out in June 2017, and our line item was left out. For now, the restoration was put behind other priorities set by Governor Rick Scott.

Making Plans

We decided that if we could not get funding support this year, we would still do something to help move the project forward. We chose to begin working on raising the money necessary for the needed permits. In doing so we planned to be ready for the next year when we hoped the State funding would come through.

This way we would return to the legislature the next year for the money needed, with a better plan, a specific need, and a lot more focus on what needed to be done.
But we learned that getting permits isn’t just about filling out a form. Permitting means getting:

  • Letters of support from local government (county commissioners)
  • Environmental studies, including bathymetric analysis (how much goo was at the bottom of the areas to be cleaned)
  • Cost estimates of the work to be performed, and the time it would take to do it
  • Detailed plans about how the work would be performed.
  • An explanation of expected results and how to measure success.
Homosassa RIver Restoration at Festival gaining funding support
HRRP at Homosassa Seafood Festival

And permits take money. So we set out to raise more money. Raising money in our case means knocking on a whole lot of doors. That fund raising included speaking with community groups, setting up a booth at local festivals (including Homosassa’s Seafood Festival and Shrimpapalooza) and meeting a lot of people.

We talked to Rotary groups, Gardening groups, and Civic groups of all kinds. And we went door to door. We talked to friends, and friends of friends. In a few months we raised almost $20,000 in cash and contributions, and $30,000 in “in kind” assistance.

Working on Permits

We began the work needed to get the permits. Environmental engineers were hired to survey the work areas. We met with companies that could do the removal, planting, and maintenance. Our team studied how the work would be done, and who could do it and a plan in conjunction with that permit. We were not sure any restoration would ever happen. But we knew that making a good plan was essential to any big project. By August 2017 we began the permitting process for the first 25 acres of river and canals.

Back Again

And in February 2018 with partial permits (for instance we couldn’t yet specify the exact worksite) in hand we went back Tallahassee to seek state funding. We had significantly more contact with many more representatives. We thank the leaders of Save Crystal River whose guidance was invaluable. That organization had already navigated and achieved state funding for a restoration project. In a huge effort of coordination and planning, we met with State leaders for three days. But in spite of these efforts, HRRP was unable to get into the budget and secure support in the 2018-19 budget.

In March 2018 we received good news. Our preliminary permits were approved (we still needed the locations on shore where “de-watering and waste removal” would occur) by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Army Corps of Engineers.

State Respresentative Ralph Massullo, MD Budget support
State Representative Ralph Massullo MD

Still the project waited another year. In February 2019 we once again returned to Tallahassee. By now we had completed enough work so appointments with more members and meetings with committee chairs were easier to set. We had a flurry of brief appointments with Senators and Representatives.

Good News

The 2019-20 budget did not have a line item for our project. But the Florida Springs initiative was funded for $50 million. In August 2019 we learned that we had been selected for some of those Springs funds. $2.0 million was coming to Homosassa. Finally, with funding possible, we made the contracts needed to secure work sites and finalize our permits.