Sometimes it is hard to decipher big news from sensational news, even on the local level.
When someone is arrested for doing something dumb, people sit up and take notice. But there are significant things that happen in a community and many people do not pay attention.
We had some of those "big news" events this week in Citrus County.
• First, Duke Energy announced it is going to build a $113 million solar power plant north of Crystal River at its energy site. That means about 200 to 300 jobs during the construction stage and then a very substantial additional property tax bill in the future.
Duke’s new investment in Citrus County is a big deal after it closed down the nuclear plant a few years back and eliminated 500 high-paying jobs. The important part about industry paying more local property taxes is that they do not demand much in the way of services compared to new households.
This is big news.
• The federal government is sending $33 million in federal aid to Citrus County as part of the coronavirus relief package. That is a huge deal.
The money is going to be used to stimulate the local economy, help individuals and build new infrastructure projects throughout the county. Both Inverness and Crystal River were given a small portion of the funding, but most goes to county government.
The idea is to reinfuse $33 million into our local economy and get people back to work. Nothing this big has ever happened in the county as it relates to help from the feds. It is a big deal.
• We are all sick of reading and talking about COVID, but two significant things happen last week. First, we passed the 10,000 case mark of positive COVID tests out of 150,000 people in our little community. In addition, at least 420 have died.
The positive news is that at least 35,000 people have already gotten their vaccinations and we are well on the way of getting out of this mess.
Life can and will return to normal later this year.
• In addition, when we are talking about significant accomplishments, I am going to ask you to remember the name of Tito Rubio. He is the head of the county health department and it has been his job to follow the vaccine guidelines established by the state and carry them out in Citrus County.
While the state’s guidelines are certainly open for criticism, Tito Rubio and his staff took those rules and worked diligently to get the vaccine distributed. The staff has operated around the clock for months in an effort to vaccinate as many county residents as possible. You have not heard a single criticism of the way the local team got the job done. They were pleasant, organized and efficient with the guidelines that were established. These people are some of the real heroes in our community.
This has been the largest public health effort ever implemented in Citrus County and it is not over yet. Tito Rubio is the man who has directed this effort.
That is very big news.
• And from around the state was a significant story involving manatee deaths. According to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 637 manatee died in 2020. In 2021, we are only three months into the year and manatee deaths are already close to that mark. They are dying at a ratio more than twice the average.
The deaths have mostly been taking place on the east coast of Florida and the suspected cause is starvation. Manatee eat seagrasses and Florida has spent decades creating all sorts of pollution that has killed off much of the seagrass.
I do not have to tell you that manatee are key to the coastal tourism business in Citrus County. There are only about 7,500 manatee left and about 800 to 1,000 come each winter to the coastal waters of Citrus County. Crystal River, Homosassa, Ozello and Chassahowitzka attract tourists from around the world because this is the only place you can legally swim with the manatee.
In Citrus County, we are fortunate that the Save Crystal River group worked with the Florida Legislature and the city of Crystal River to reverse the practices that killed off our seagrasses. New grasses were planted and now the manatee thrive when they come to visit our waters.
However, on the east coast the Indian River Lagoon has lost about 46,000 acres of seagrass over the past 10 years. Algae blooms and excess nutrients from storm water runoff and leaky septic tanks have killed off the natural manatee food leaving them weak when problems arise.
The big news here is that with citizen leadership and legislative help from Sen. Wilton Simpson and Rep. Ralph Massullo, Citrus County has managed to protect the food source and clean up the Crystal River. Work is now starting on other rivers in our county.
The problem is that the folks on the Atlantic coast have not even created a game plan. Everyone is just pointing fingers instead of trying to copy the game plan created in Citrus County.
That is big news.
Gerry Mulligan is the publisher of the Chronicle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.