Clermont's existing boat ramp

Hiawatha Preserve has been described by the city of Clermont as a “passive park.” It is a place where environmentalist, naturalists, photographers and learning groups will gather to appreciate and learn. Runners, bicyclists, families, and visitors will enjoy a tranquil piece of Clermont’s natural beauty.

Victory Pointe

Victory Pointe, a $9.7 million project, is an essential part of the city’s Master Plan. It will enhance Clermont’s downtown and waterfront and make the area a destination of choice.

On June 14, 2017, at the Victory Pointe Groundbreaking, the dirt hit the fan.

Between the time that the master plan was presented to the community, March 2015, and the Victory Pointe groundbreaking, June 2017, the planned site of the boat ramp had, without notice, changed from the “Bell” site, located at the southeast corner of Lake Minneola, to the Hiawatha Preserve.

A resident saw a rendering of where the boat ramp would be placed. He told a neighbor, who told a neighbor. Cindy Davis, a life-long resident of Lake County and a force to be reckoned with, took on the challenge to shake the city. It didn’t take long before “Save the Hiawatha Preserve” was the talk of the town. She began to investigate, and many other disgruntled residents also began to question the relocation of the planned ramp. A city workshop was held and Richard Levey of GAI’s Community Solutions Group attempted to explain why the site of the boat ramp was moved to the Hiawatha Preserve. Those attending the workshop felt that his explanations fell short of credible. Neighboring residents, boaters, environmentalists, and county officials rallied to oppose the move which was estimated to cost $2.2 million + safety issues and eco-impact to the Hiawatha Preserve.

During the next few months, the mission to preserve the Preserve and find a suitable location for the ramp became critical throughout the community. People attended the council meetings requesting that the city reevaluate the location of the proposed site.

In September 2017 The Clermont Chain of Lakes Foundation, a 501c4 organization, was formed by a group of concerned citizens opposing the decision of the council.  Its mission was to preserve Lake Hiawatha Preserve and not allow the City to remove this natural watershed and install a boat ramp. It also promoted a larger boating facility for its citizens.

At the November 14 Clermont City Council meeting, the Mayor blamed a few Lake County residents living close to the designated site, for construction delays and the reason why Clermont would not have a ramp to replace the existing one.  In rebuttal, the large organized group disputed her comments. The attempt of the city to move the ramp to the Hiawatha Preserve (a passive park) without any notification afforded to the city or county residents was a BAD decision on the part of the City and influenced the public to take action, said one of the attendees.

December 12th, City council chambers were filled to capacity.  Despite expert testimony and abundant pleas to keep the boat ramp at its current site, council members Diane Travis, Heidi Brishke, and Mayor Gail Ash voted to remove the boat ramp from its current location and construct it at the Hiawatha Preserve. The Victory Pointe Wetlands Park construction would continue on the western bank of Lake Minneola just east of the Clermont Boat House. One concession given was the boat ramp would remain open while the new boat ramp was constructed. Council Members Tim Bates and Ray Goodgame opposed the move of the ramp.

In January, a lawsuit was filed against the City of Clermont by the Clermont Chain of Lakes Foundation. The suit alleged that the city chose to move forward with locating a boat ramp at the Lake Hiawatha Preserve based on insufficient facts.  It also stated that the city violated its own comprehensive plan, as well as the park’s passive use designation.

At the March 13 Clermont City Council Meeting, council unanimously voted to withdraw the St. Johns River Water Management District permit to construct a boat ramp at Lake Hiawatha Preserve and consider alternate sites.

Council member Tim Bates commended the opposition for their painstaking efforts in pushing forth what they believed was right. Mayor Ash and council member Travis alluded to the fact that they had followed the recommendations of consultants and staff. Council member Brishke said she hated to waste the money they had already spent on the project but, it was clear they made the wrong decision.

It might have been less painful, less damaging, and less costly for all concerned if council had considered the pleas of their constituents and neighbors, as well as the expert advice from County and State.

Within the next 30 days, council will meet to consider alternative sites for the boat ramp.

Many of the people who attended the recent council meeting appeared more relieved than jubilant by the council’s vote to withdraw the permit to construct the boat ramp at Lake Hiawatha Preserve. It’s all about listening and having an open mind. It took the council a long time to listen.

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