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The King’s Bay cleanup effort under the direction of Art Jones is under fire for what one manatee advocate calls the “egregious” manner in which the operators of a mechanical harvester are cleaning up the body of water.
Jones said Wednesday he has suspended work with the company until “everyone can sit down and work things out.”
Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee Club, said what has been observed by representatives from his organization and other agencies amounts to dredging down to the substrate level of the bay floor.
“It is egregious, what is happening. They were bearing down so hard, the machine could hardly move and the water would get so cloudy you could never see a manatee as you begin to move,” Rose said.
“We believe it is causing great harm and will continue to cause great harm if they continue to do the cleanup like this,” he said.
Rose said while he supports efforts to clean up the bay, it should be done with independent monitoring so proper controls can be instituted to protect manatees and vegetation.
Crystal River Wildlife Refuge Manager Michael Lusk, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he also has concerns.
Lusk said as a result, he has come up with a list of mitigating suggestions he submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Some of his suggestions include not letting the machines get too close the sanctuary areas and maybe not do any lyngbya harvesting on very cold days, when manatees are normally plentiful, seeking relief in the relatively warm waters of the bay.
Ken Frink, the assistant Citrus County administrator, said his staff has also brought up concerns about the use of the harvesters.
“We have to strike a balance between trying to clean up the bay and protecting the manatees and vegetation,” Frink said. “That’s why we called a meeting for March 28. (DEP) Secretary (Herschel) Vinyard is sending someone and we will all sit down and figure out the best way to move forward,” Frink said.
Jones recently announced the launch of the custom-built harvester operated by Recovery Solutions of Aripeka that can reach as far as 10.5 feet deep. He also unveiled a partnership with a citizen’s advocacy group, Save Crystal River Inc., and his One Rake at a Time effort.
On Wednesday Jones said as soon as he heard about the concerns, he suspended Recovery Solutions’ work until everyone can sit down and set some parameters for operation.
“We would also like to see if we can change some things in the machine, too, so there wouldn’t be any problems,” Jones said. “We are here to do no harm, and if there is any problem, we will try to fix it as quickly as possible.”
Contact Chronicle reporter A.B. Sidibe at 352-564-2925 or email@example.com.