Skip to main content
A1 A1
Two county piers closed

Fishermen wanting to drop a line at the Ozello fishing pier will have a long wait.

The Citrus County Parks & Recreation department closed this week the Ozello pier on South John Brown Drive in Crystal River, with the county’s spokesperson saying that it was beyond repair and needed to be replaced.

It’s the second pier that the county has closed because the structure was beyond repair.

County spokeswoman Veronica Kampschroer told the Chronicle that county staff typically inspect the county’s piers monthly and make repairs immediately when its needed.

But during the staff’s last inspection of the Ozello pier last month and the Eden fishing pier in Inverness in June, it wasn’t safe to just add a few more screws, bolts or a couple more feet of railing.

There was nothing salvageable any more from the wooden piers that could keep either open and safe.

The Eden pier, at 614 Park Lake Terrace, Inverness, is at least 10 years old.

The Ozello pier was built in 1989 and rebuilt in 1993 after the No Name Storm. As far as records show, there’s been no rebuilds since then, Kampschroer said.

“(With the Ozello pier) the rails are structurally unsafe and we’re concerned about citizens’ safety,” Kampschroer said of the 30-foot-long structure.

The county is now reviewing the bid process to replace both piers and what materials could be used. Boards made of composite materials will last longer, but is more expensive than traditional wood.

Kampschroer said the goal is to have both piers replaced by the end of the year.

But doing that won’t come cheap.

The county is looking at each costing in excess of $75,000.

Kampschroer said the cost may seem excessive, but they have to be built to a commercial standard to ensure a higher level of safety and also meet demands set by the county’s insurers.

She said the public is encouraged to use other county piers and to be patient until they are replaced.

“We’ve done everything we can,” she said.

For additional information about the two piers or other piers still open, contact Citrus County Parks & Recreation at 352-527-7540.

Life jacket loaner station installed at Hunter Springs Park

Children’s safety while in the water is a major concern especially during the summer months here in Citrus County as kids are out of school, but now families can have easy access to life jackets for their kids to go swimming at the popular Hunter Springs Park.

Cayla’s Coats recently collaborated with several nonprofit and community organizations on a project to build and install a life jacket loaner station at Hunter Springs Park this past Thursday, August 4.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

Jesse Winiger, owner / operator of Citrus Mobile Welding and Fabrication holds a sign in place while Jessica Barnes touches up paint on the newest Cayla’s Coats kiosk in Citrus County. She says there are plans for four more in the county. The large kiosk was built and erected by volunteers.

“It’s amazing seeing so many of our local small businesses band together for one mission to create safety for our kids,” said Jade White, public relations and communications manager for the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, who attended the installation Thursday morning.

People from Handy Hicks, Citrus Mobile Welding & Fabrication, and the city of Crystal River worked together to install the station at the park using large machinery and lots of determination in the ever-increasing heat and humidity.

“This is the fourth life jacket station we’ve installed here in Citrus County,” said Jessica Barnes, founder of Cayla’s Coats which spearheaded the entire project.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck Chronicle photo editor 

Jessica Barnes watches as workers place a Cayla’s Coats life vest loaner station into place at Hunter Springs Park in Crystal River. The kiosks provide life vests, free of charge, to anyone needing additional help while swimming.

It was also Josh Hicks, owner of Handy Hicks, who decided to dedicate some of his time and resources to help with the project and build the station for Cayla’s Coats with the help of some teens who participated in their Citrus Anti-Poverty Youth Program (CAYP).

According to 17-year-old Alex Ortaliz, one of the teens who helped Handy Hicks, he and his 15-year-old brother, Ethan, helped form the frame for the station, cut the boards used for the middle of the station and secured them to the frame.

Ethan said they heard about the project and really liked the idea, so once Josh Hicks brought all the materials to his workshop, they put everything together.

“We all helped measure everything and got all the boards set up,” said Ethan. “It was very heavy, but it was interesting and we’re really happy to see it out here. It’s a thing I think most places should have. We come here very often so it’s really neat to see something we’ve built here.”

mattbeck / Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

Jessica Barnes watches workers Thursday morning, Aug. 4, as the fourth Cayla’s Coats life vest loaner station in Citrus County is installed. Barnes’ daughter drowned at 20 months old and the loaner life vests are meant to educate and help prevent any other similar accidents.

Handy Hicks’s participation in this project as a local company, according to Josh Hicks, was through personally dedicating many hours and finances to the project, saying that the community unity achieved, relationships networked and the safety this project is for outweighs the time and expenses given.

The project was done through partnerships between Cayla’s Coats, Handy Hicks, CAYP Program, city of Crystal River, Citrus Mobile Welding & Fabrication, and Hunter Springs Kayaks, as well as their partnership with the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) Marine Unit.

CCSO Marine Unit Sgt. Evan Marshall said, “We are grateful for our partnership with Cayla’s Coats and for their donation to the CCSO Marine Unit of children’s personal floatation devices (PFD) for our patrol vessels. These PFDs will be distributed by deputies when they encounter a child without a life jacket aboard vessels.”

Additionally, CCSO Marine Unit Lt. Chris Ball went over the law regarding life jackets for children

“All children under the age of six must have a Coast Guard approved PFD on while a vessel is underway,” said Lt. Ball. “When not boating, it is recommended that small children wear PFDs around bodies of water, including swimming pools, beaches, lakes and rivers.”

DeSantis taps Francis for Florida Supreme Court

TALLAHASSEE — Two years after justices thwarted his first attempt to place Renatha Francis on the Florida Supreme Court, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday tapped the Palm Beach County circuit judge to serve on a high court dominated by conservative jurists.

With four of the seven-member court’s justices appointed by DeSantis, the Republican governor will leave his Federalist Society imprint on the Supreme Court for decades to come.

Francis, who was among six finalists sent to DeSantis by the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission this summer, will replace outgoing Justice Alan Lawson, who will retire from the bench on Aug. 31. Lawson stepped down more than a decade in advance of justices’ mandatory retirement age of 75.

DeSantis, a Harvard Law School graduate, sketched out his judicial philosophy Friday morning at the Richard & Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum, referring to the “Founding Fathers” as he introduced Francis.

“Our government here in the United States and in the state of Florida is supposed to be what’s called a government of laws, not a government of men,” he said, calling out judges who have “taken power away from people’s elected representatives” by having “legislated from the bench.”

“And that’s not their role. Their role is to apply the law and Constitution as it’s written,” he added. “It’s really important that courts are discharging the duties that they have under the Constitution within the confines of those limitations.”

Francis, who will be the court’s first Jamaican-American justice, was the only Black nominee on the list presented to the governor this summer. The court has not had a Black justice since former Justice Peggy Quince stepped down after reaching a mandatory retirement age in 2019.

Former Gov. Rick Scott appointed Francis in 2018 to serve as a judge in Miami-Dade County. The following year, DeSantis tapped her to serve as a 15th Judicial Circuit judge in Palm Beach County. DeSantis said she will join the Supreme Court in early September.

Francis, who was born in Jamaica, “understands what the proper role of the judge is in America’s constitutional system,” DeSantis said.

“And I also think being an immigrant, she probably has more appreciation for our constitutional system,” the governor said, noting that she attended law school after starting her own business. “I believe this appointment of Judge Francis is one that will really reinvigorate and fortify our judiciary in a very positive way but also send a great message that you can realize your dreams.”

Francis, who called herself the “epitome of the American dream,” echoed DeSantis’ ideology during Friday’s event.

“As a student of history, I was and I remain in awe of the United States Constitution,” she said. “The Florida Supreme Court protects the people’s liberty, and inherent in the way that we do that is by respecting and observing the limited role that judges play in our constitutional system of government.”

DeSantis also named Francis to the Supreme Court in 2020, but her appointment became embroiled in a legal and political battle.

Wrangling over Francis’ appointment began when state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, asked the Supreme Court to find that DeSantis’ choice of Francis violated the state Constitution because Francis would not reach a 10-year Bar membership requirement for justices until Sept. 24, 2020.

DeSantis in May 2020 announced he was choosing Francis and John Couriel to fill two Supreme Court openings, selecting them from a list of nine candidates submitted by the nominating commission.

Couriel immediately joined the Supreme Court, but DeSantis said Francis would be sworn in as a justice after she reached the Bar requirement months later.

In a rebuke to DeSantis, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected his selection of Francis and ordered the governor to appoint another candidate from the list of nominees. He subsequently appointed Justice Jamie Grosshans.

DeSantis reiterated Friday that he disagreed with the court’s decision about Francis. He also said that, although he had chosen her two years ago, Francis wasn’t “entitled” to be named as Lawson’s successor.

“I said I am going to do it from scratch, no preconceived notions and we’re going to go with the person that we think has done the best job,” he said. “We were happy to appoint or trying to appoint Judge Francis two years ago … but then seeing how she’s progressed since then, she’s done even better.”

Since he took office less than four years ago, DeSantis’ appointments have secured a conservative shift on the seven-member court, following the mandatory retirements in 2019 of Quince and two other longtime justices, Barbara Pariente and R. Fred Lewis.

DeSantis appointed Couriel, Grosshans and now-Chief Justice Carlos Muniz, who joined Lawson and Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston to form a solid conservative majority. Justice Jorge Labarga, who joined Pariente, Lewis and Quince on many major issues, is now often a lone dissenter.

Shortly after taking office, DeSantis also appointed Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa to the Supreme Court, but they were later tapped by former President Donald Trump to serve on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. DeSantis subsequently selected Couriel and Grosshans.

Francis’ brandished her Federalist Society credentials on Friday with a quote from Alexander Hamilton’s admonition in the Federalist Papers that judges “exercise neither force nor will, but merely judgment.”

“We apply the law as written. This timeless principle of civil society not only promotes uniformity, predictability. It’s essential to preserving liberty. It restrains arbitrariness. It restrains abuses of power. And if history teaches us anything, is that as simple and enduring as this principle is, it’s evaded the vast majority of human history until this American experiment,” she said.