City's alternative at the Preserve

 

The “Bell” site. The city-owned site on the southeast corner of Lake Minneola.

Greg Amann, a business owner and life-long resident of Clermont, participated in a series of visioning sessions in which more than 1,000 people from the community assisted in developing a blueprint for the city’s future that led in part to the development of the City’s Masterplan. It was approved by City Council in 2015.

During those meetings, city property located at the southeast corner of Lake Minneola (also known as the “Bell” site), was determined as the best location for the future boat ramp (see masterplan, page 11 #29).

The first time Greg said he heard of the change in the location of the ramp was after the Victory Point groundbreaking when Save the Hiawatha Preserve-No Boat Ramp signs began appearing on front lawns.  Since then he has researched city meetings and minutes for any indication when the switch occurred. He said he found information “incomplete”, at best. “The original site of the boat ramp is still indicated of the Master Plan”, Greg exclaimed.

At a Clermont City Council Meeting in September 2017, a group of concerned residents of Clermont, Lake County and the surrounding areas appeared before council to ask why the existing boat ramp was being moved to the Hiawatha Preserve without any notice and why the city would pay $2.2 million for a move when other locations would be less pricey and more environmentally practical.

Over the next few months, the group united in its efforts and shared information in various social networking resources. Stephen Franklin started a multi-use forum to unite the boating community, spread awareness of issues affecting the lakes, and discuss past and upcoming events. Since then, the popular Facebook page, Clermont chain of lakes boaters and floaters, has received a lot of interest and community awareness.

At the recent January 9th council meeting, Greg told Council that he would like to see redistricting. He went on to say that 40% of the city council reside at Clermont Yacht Club, located directly above the “Bell” site. This could be perceived as a conflict of interest during voting for such issues as the relocation of the boat ramp.

Libby Hanna, a resident of Clermont, also attend the recent council meeting to inform the city that the Clermont Chain of Lakes Foundation, a 501©4 organization, was recently formed to maintain the Lake Hiawatha Preserve in its current state and not allow the City to destroy the last piece of natural wetlands on Lake Minneola.

In an impassioned statement, she explained:

“Four weeks ago, in this room filled to capacity with people opposing the location of the ramp, this Council voted 3-2 to move the Clermont Boat Ramp to Hiawatha Preserve.

  • Notwithstanding the confusion, you sowed by sending a letter to residents in November saying that the Preserve location was off the table, then reversed yourselves;
  • Notwithstanding your disdain for the report and recommendation of the Lake County Water Authority;
  • Notwithstanding oblique references to the greater ‘economic opportunities’ of the Bell Site without telling us what they plan;
  • Notwithstanding that either selecting to file an ERP for the Bell Ceramics site or leaving the ramp in place were achievable within the six-month timeframe you promised at that meeting, whereas the Preserve option clearly is not;
  • Notwithstanding all these things, you chose the most expensive, destructive and unpopular choice for the relocation of the boat ramp.

We are happy and grateful that the boat ramp remains open for now. However, our dismay at your selection requires a response. To that end, a group of citizens have formed a 501c4 corporation, the Clermont Chain of Lakes Foundation, committed to ensuring public access to the Chain of Lakes for water sports, wetland and shoreline protection, water quality, taxpayer protection, and government accountability and transparency in all decisions involving the lakes. I am an officer in that Corporation. Our website, should you be interested, is clermontchainoflakesfoundation.org. And there is a Donate button.

Rendering of the original boat ramp at the Lake Hiawatha Preserve

At a workshop on December 4th, Mayor Ash said, “If we lose the water quality of our lakes, we lose everything.” We couldn’t agree more. Thus, your decision to intentionally cause more ecological damage by choosing the location that requires the most dredging, the most wetlands removal, and the most tree cutting, is baffling to the citizens of Clermont. A Hiawatha Preserve boat ramp will not only degrade the quality of the water, but it will also degrade the experience of that water for everyone who uses the lakes and cost the taxpayers more money than either of the other viable choices; Bell Ceramics or staying in place. We don’t agree with your decision, and we intend to continue speaking up on behalf of the lakes and the people who prioritize them.”

Rendering of the newest proposal at Hiawatha Preserve

The city has offered an olive branch to appease the nearby residents, one living only 40-foot from the proposed ramp. It proposed a smaller boat ramp facility (approximately 200-foot from the closest house and limiting parking to 21 spaces).

The fate of the boat ramp is no longer a decision to be made by only a few Lake County residents living close to Hiawatha Preserve. The quest to “SAVE HIAWATHA PRESERVE” has spread far into the community. Building a smaller ramp to appease a few is not the issue. It’s about protecting the wetlands in the Hiawatha Preserve and building a bigger and better facility in a suitable location on Lake Minneola that will accommodate the area’s growing population.

The Foundation stated that a new ramp in the Hiawatha Preserve would cost millions to build and more to maintain. It will require cutting down hundreds of trees and destroying the last remaining wetlands on Lake Minneola. It will also require expensive, ongoing dredging.

The Foundation’s vision is for Clermont to have a bigger and better boat ramp facility; A boat ramp that will accommodate the growing community; a facility that can be used for fishing tournaments and recreational water sports; the best boat ramp that Clermont can have.

The Foundation asks for your help by signing a petition by visiting SAVE HIAWATHA PRESERVE or donate to the cause, using the Paypal link DONATE TO CLERMONT CHAIN OF LAKES FOUNDATION.