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Port Citrus had three sisters

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By Chris Van Ormer

Editor’s note: The Chronicle is examining the Port Citrus project each Sunday in February. The first segment deals with plans for a “Port Citrus” from the 1960s.

It may seem new but it’s not.

The year was 1965, and work had begun to connect the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of the state to the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast via a barge canal.

The visions of the creators of the project were to make it easier for goods and commodities to traverse the state without the long journey around the tip of Florida.

And Citrus County was slated as the exit point on the planning board, opening up an economic gold mine, one proponents of the project say is stronger than ever today.

A feasibility study was completed and work was started; however, only a third of the barge canal was finished before the project was tabled.

Citrus County’s first port authority was created when construction began on the Cross Florida Barge Canal.
The history of Port Citrus recently came to light when Lecanto resident Jeff Nigels discovered a 1969 feasibility study in family books and Crystal River resident Bill Lyons provided another booklet. Lyons was a member of the original port authority. That information is the source of this story.

The current port authority was created in July 2011, after state legislation admitted Citrus to the list of Florida seaports as the 15th member. But Port Citrus has had previous incarnations, one in 1967 and another in 1984.

The first Citrus County Port Authority was created under a 1967 Florida Law along with three others in Levy, Marion and Putnam counties. Lawmakers at the time considered the ports necessary to service the soon-to-be-completed Cross Florida Barge Canal. This was the ports’ status in the late 1960s:

* Port Levy authority completed a feasibility study and selected a site immediately downstream of the Inglis Lock on the north side of the barge canal in Levy County. According to a report in the Aug. 1, 1969, edition of the St. Petersburg Times, Levy Port Authority planned a 600-acre site 2-1/2-miles east of Inglis adjacent to the lock. Buren Brice, port authority chairman, estimated the port initially would require a capital outlay of about $4 million, while the user facilities might run as high as $12 million. Brice’s plan was for Port Levy to provide access to the Mississippi River valley and ultimately to the eastern seaboard.

Levy Bargeport Development Co. contracted with the port authority to develop the first 50 acres of facilities. Company President Earl Hardee said Port Levy would be in operation in about 18 months. Forty of the 50 acres were purchased from J.T. Goethe for $600 an acre. The initial acreage would be developed with railroad facilities, roads and a slip to handle two barges.

* Port Marion authority selected a site east of Dunnellon, just west of the Dunnellon lock site on State Road 484, adjacent to railway lines, according to a report in the July 1, 1966, edition of the Ocala Star-Banner. The size would range from 300 to 500 acres of land owned by the Florida Canal Authority and would cost little.
A Jacksonville-based firm completed a 16-page report at a cost of $5,000, saying the port should be self-sustaining 10 years after completion of the barge canal and recommended the commissioning of a feasibility study to support the financing. The port would then become a “growing asset for Marion County.”

* Port Putnam authority had an economic and port study completed in April 1965. In May 1968, a referendum approved the creation of the port authority and the issuance of not more than $750,000 of bonds to be used for the construction of port facilities. The proceeds were used to build the port facilities.
Port Putnam is still a barge port today, and the only port of the four that went ahead from its feasibility study. (Please see a separate report regarding Port Putnam today.)

The other three ports — Citrus, Marion and Levy — were stopped when President Richard Nixon signed an executive order in 1971 suspending the Cross Florida Barge Canal project following federal lawsuits citing environmental and ecological concerns about the effect of saltwater intrusion. The canal project was one-third complete and had cost $74 million.

In 1984, Citrus County petitioned the Florida Legislature to create a second port authority to oversee a marina project. However, the project didn’t move forward and the port authority stopped meeting.

The 2011 port authority was created by the Florida Legislature.