The Citrus County Tourist Development Council (TDC), which last year agreed to allocate $400,000 in tourism tax money to fund a study looking at connecting the Three Sisters Trail to County Road 486, has changed its mind.
The board now wants to put the money back into its capital fund. The reason: too many uncertainties.
At its Aug. 14 meeting, the TDC board recommended putting the matter on this Thursday's county commission meeting for approval. There were no motions made to reallocate the $400,000 to another project. However, there was much discussion on throwing support to another high-priority project: the 9-mile Fort Island Trail bike/pedestrian path.
TDC and County Commission Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. said there are too many uncertainties with the connector project and a firmer commitment from the city of Crystal River and the county is needed as to when the trail will be built, presumably from C.R. 486 to Three Sisters Springs.
“If we fund a study and that project doesn’t get done, then that money has to be paid back,” Kitchen said.
County Commission Chairman Jeff Kinnard said both trail projects are important to the county's economy, but believes now is the time to move on the long-awaited Fort Island Trail path, he said. The county can revisit the C.R. 486 trail connector to Crystal River and seek funding alternatives, he said.
“Let’s get the first phase of the Fort Island Trail project rolling (and) then revisit the C.R. 486 project next year and look at putting together the funds," Kinnard said.
The Fort Island Trail project consists of a 10- to 12-foot-wide multi-use path from Fort Island Gulf Beach to U.S. 19 and includes a new bike/pedestrian bridge with crossings and modifications to four canal structures along the road.
Projected costs range from $21 million to $57 million and Kinnard said the $400,000 — if it is eventually reallocated to the project — combined with funding already allocated from other sources will help get the first phase of the project off the ground.
The Fort Island bike-path project has been on the county’s radar for awhile because the 5-foot-wide bike path that is there now is not that safe and — if doubled in size — would be more attractive for locals and tourists.
County commissioners will discuss the agenda item at their meeting which begins at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Citrus County Courthouse, 110 N. Apopka Ave. in Inverness.