Audubon Society bids to block expansion of Oslo Road boat ramp
Pelican Island Audubon Society on Friday filed a Petition for Administrative Hearing to halt the Oslo Road Boat Ramp expansion project, according to Audubon Vice President Bob Bruce, an Ambersand Beach resident.
After being blocked for years by united opposition from environmental organizations and state and federal permitting agencies, a scaled-down version of the county project has recently shown new signs of life.
On Aug. 22, St. Johns River Water Management District announced its intention to issue a permit to fill mangrove wetlands, dredge part of a channel, extend docks and pave a parking lot and part of Oslo Road.
Audubon’s petition comes in response to that notice.
Co-petitioners are Dr. Richard Baker, president PIAS and biology professor emeritus at the University of Florida, and Vero Beach ecologist and consultant Dr. David Cox, a Summerplace resident.
Opponents say the proposed work would endanger manatees and damage seagrass meadows and fish populations in one of the few areas of the lagoon where seagrass and fish are still thriving in the wake of recent algae blooms and other events that have severely damaged the estuarine environment.
Grant Gilmore, a founding scientist at Harbor Branch who wrote his doctoral dissertation on seagrass and is widely regarded as the foremost expert on fish in the Indian River Lagoon, says expanding the facility could have a disastrous impact on fish populations.
Fish larva are guided by chemical signals to specific locations to mature and Gilmore says the mangroves north of the boat ramp and the culvert to the south constitute the most abundant fish nursery between Cape Canaveral and the Jupiter Inlet.
“Grant Gilmore is right,” says Paul Dritenbas, Indian River County’s Florida Inland Navigation District commissioner.
Audubon’s petition challenges the proposed permit on 24 separate grounds, questioning among other things whether the planned dredging will enable the launch of larger boats more likely to damage seagrass beds – a claim the county denies – and whether “the destruction of almost an acre and half of mangroves for expanding a parking lot and constructing a stormwater pond is clearly in the public interest” as required by law.
Audubon stopped the Oslo Ramp project in 2010 with the same kind of petition it filed on Friday, even though no judge ever ruled on the petition’s merit.
“The county basically withdrew its permit application after we filed so the judge took our hearing off of the administrative court calendar,” says Bruce.
Now the petition is back and will almost certainly be heard in court.