Waterfront futures: Port concept follows pitch for marina

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By Chris Van Ormer

Port Citrus and Hollins­wood Harbor — how do they compare?

When the concept of Port Citrus was launched a year ago, many Citrus County residents initially considered it a progression of the then year-old plan for a port district and a marina community on a portion of the former Cross Florida Barge Canal.

Hollinswood Harbor hit the news in November 2011, after Citrus County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted to create the port district in the comprehensive plan and rezoned Dixie Hollins’ 547 acres of industrial, conservation and mining property north of the canal to open the possibilities of a marina, commercial development, a hotel and as many as 600 homes.

Hollins, whose family has been in Citrus County since 1942, is the president of Citrus Mining and Timber, representing a large piece of land in the northwest corner of the county between the barge canal and a northern boundary of residential properties along West River Road.

To make a distinction between Port Citrus and Hollinswood Harbor, the Chronicle asked Hollins what progress had been made on his project.

“Over the past few years, we’ve talked to a number of businesses interested in using natural products and the barge canal,” Hollins responded via email. “Even though the economy hasn’t been great, people are still planning for when it recovers. We’ve talked to businesses as diverse as alternative energy and mitigation for offshore reefs. People are thinking twice and three times before investing, but there’s still a lot of interest.”

Hollins was asked if he had anticipated the BOCC would initiate Port Citrus as a commercial shipping port. His response did not indicate whether he was aware of the BOCC’s move.

“What I want to do is take what’s left of my family’s property and do something that has meaning,” Hollins wrote. “For us, it needs to make sense economically, and it’s my goal to make sure that whatever happens, it generates jobs for the people who live here, and that it’s something that we can all be proud of.”

Historically, the idea of having a port in the barge canal goes back to the 1960s. Hollins was asked how long making use of the barge canal had been a goal for his company, and if it had been a vision similar to bringing the Crystal River Energy Complex.

“We (and a lot of others) have been making good use of the barge canal since it was created by the Federal Government,” Hollins wrote. “From kayakers and fisherman to law enforcement and others — all use the canal. Now, there’s an idea to expand and build on that, we’ll have to see if it’s possible.”

The key cut is a physical feature in Hollins’ property. It is where barges currently dock to pick up aggregate from the Cemex mine to ship out to other ports and offshore projects. Although the site of Port Citrus is to be determined by the Citrus County Port Authority after a feasibility study is produced, the key cut is a potential site for Port Citrus. As the key cut is shown within the site for Hollinswood Harbor, Hollins was asked how the two projects would work together, or if they would they merge.

“I can’t predict the future,” Hollins responded. “We’re working on getting new business into the site and the county is going through their process. Who knows what order things will happen or not happen in and what the possibilities will or won’t be? Until we have new businesses or the county has a plan, it’s impossible to say. In the meantime, we are open-minded to either public or private opportunities.”

Finally, Hollins was asked what he saw as the potential for cargo coming in and going out and how soon increased transactions could start.

“Cargo has been coming in and going out since the barge canal was dug in the ’60s,” Hollins said. “That’s going to continue. The economy drives that traffic.”

 Size: 547 acres.
 Site: North side of the former Cross Florida Barge Canal west of U.S. 19.
 Current use: Mining and timber.
 Future plan components: A port district, a waterfront commercial district and an industrial area.
 Potential: A marina, commercial development, a hotel and 600 homes.

Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer can be reached at cvanormer@chronicleonline.com.