THE ISSUE: New boat ramp at barge canal could open by 2024.

OUR OPINION: Just build it.

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Discussion of building a boat ramp near the mouth of the never-finished Cross Florida Barge Canal in north Citrus County goes back for years, and it now looks as if this idea will become a reality.

While there has been general agreement that the county needs additional access to the Gulf, there has not been the same agreement on where the ramp should be located.

Four years ago, in the summer of 2017 there was discussion of using funds from the BP Deep Horizon settlement to build the ramp, but there was difference within the county commission on building the ramp along the barge canal. At the time, Citrus County businessman Dixie Hollins said a ramp on the barge canal had been discussed for at least the past 12 years.

The issue at the time was whether a ramp located 10 miles north of Crystal River would attract more out of county than county boaters and there was discussion about taking that project out of the county’s list of priorities for the BP settlement money. However, in an August 2017 meeting, the proposal to build the ramp on the barge canal survived a 3-2 commission vote.

Less than a year later, in May 2018, commissioners made building the boat ramp a top project on which to spend some of the money, and the commission has now approved the project, so the next steps are gaining approval of a design and going through the process for spending the funds. Assuming no roadblocks, construction of the project could begin in late 2022 or early 2023 and be completed by 2024.

The overall project is for a 10-lane boat ramp with 61 parking spaces, restroom facilities and covered picnic tables. The ramp and associated facilities will be located on 8 acres, but there is room to expand to over 18 acres.

This project should bring relief to the already overcrowded ramp facilities in the county, where boaters routinely line up to unload and load boats, and where pickups and boat trailers frequently overflow parking lots and end up parked alongside the roads leading into the ramps.

Aside from helping relieve congestion, locating the boat ramp on the barge canal with direct access to the Gulf should help ease some of the congestion along the Crystal River as boaters traverse from Kings Bay to the Gulf and then back at the end of the day.

This project has been discussed and debated for years. It is time to just build it.