INVERNESS — Ahoy, legislators! Port Citrus is back aboard.

Citrus County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to ask the legislative delegation to ignore their previous request to remove the state’s official Port Citrus designation.

Instead, Commissioners Scott Carnahan, Dennis Damato and Joe Meek voted to keep the designation with no public funding for the potential of future development.

With his vote, Carnahan reversed his position from a year ago, when he was one of three to vote to remove Port Citrus and dissolve the Citrus County Port Authority.

Carnahan said Tuesday that discussions with Paul Anderson, president and CEO of Port of Tampa, helped changed his mind.

“I made the wrong decision there,” he said, referring to the 2015 vote. “Keeping Port Citrus doesn’t hurt us one thing.”

Carnahan said Anderson’s opinion carried great weight.

“Paul said to me, ‘if you let this thing go you’ll be the laughingstock in the state,’” Carnahan said. “Common sense says keep it, put it in your tool box, but don’t spend any money on it.”

Whether the vote will make any difference is unknown. State Rep. Jimmie T. Smith has drafted a local bill to eliminate the Citrus County Port Authority, though it makes no mention specifically of Port Citrus, which was added to the list of 14 state ports in 2011.

State Sen. Charlie Dean said last week he considers dissolving the port authority as having the effect of eliminating Port Citrus as well. Dean said he will not change his vote to do that regardless of what commissioners did Tuesday.

Meek raised the issue after Carnahan mentioned during the board’s goal-setting workshop in December he thinks the county should keep the Port Citrus designation with no public funding.

Meek and Damato, who were in the minority of the January 2015 vote, said keeping the designation with no public funding could be a benefit as the state considers an Interstate 75 reliever that could cut through Citrus to the Suncoast Parkway.

Business leaders said the same thing.

“Our economic tool kit is really limited,” Chamber of Commerce representative John Murphy said.

Chuck Dixon, the Citrus County School District’s director of planning, said the port could produce jobs one day.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Dixon said. “I can’t really see any benefits for removing it now that we really have it.”

Lecanto resident Chris Lloyd, however, had a different take. He said the port has not attracted investors in its five years of existence.

“Nobody has stepped forward and expressed any interest at all,” he said. “I don’t see any good sense in kicking a dead dog back to life.”

Commissioners Scott Adams and Ron Kitchen stuck with their positions of a year ago.

Meek said he would support only minimal funding — a $585 annual fee to maintain port status.

Based on the vote, County Administrator Randy Oliver will send a letter to Smith and Dean of the board’s decision.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com; or via Twitter @mwrightcitrus.

* In other business, the board voiced support for 

Suncoast Parkway interchange development standards, which now go through the county’s planning and development commission, and then the county commission, before they are approved. 

* Commissioners also set a 1 p.m. Jan. 21 workshop to discuss a presentation the county has been asked to make later this month to the I-75 Relief Task Force.

 

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