July 15. 2003 6:01AM

Rodman saga will continue

Sun Tallahassee Bureau

As written in the Gainsville Sun

Gov. Bush says he remains in favor of restoring the Ocklawaha River.



TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday did as promised and vetoed a measure that tried to preserve the Rodman Reservoir and the dam named after the late state Sen. George Kirkpatrick.

In this latest chapter of the long-running battle over the North Florida reservoir, state legislators in May passed a bill that would have created a state reserve on 28,000 acres of state and federal land, including the reservoir that was created 35 years ago when the Ocklawaha River was blocked.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, and Rep. Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, would have named the reserve after Kirkpatrick, who was one of the staunchest defenders of the reservoir.

But more importantly, the legislation would have barred the state from taking any action to alter the dam or reservoir without approval by the Legislature.

For the past three years, Bush has been in favor of restoring the river, but he has not aggressively pushed to demolish the dam because of continued opposition from legislators, including several powerful North Florida politicians.

Bush, however, said Monday that naming the proposed state reserve after Kirkpatrick - who died unexpectedly earlier this year - was not enough of a reason for him to alter his stance on restoring the river.

"While I appreciate and support efforts by the Legislature to honor the late Senator George Kirkpatrick, establishing a state reserve around Rodman Reservoir undermines efforts to restore a more natural flow of water to the Ocklawaha River, once considered one of America's most beautiful and pristine waterways," Bush wrote in his veto message.

"In 2000, I endorsed a plan to partially restore the Ocklawaha River. I remain steadfast in that commitment," Bush added.

The governor wrote that a free-flowing river could lead to the restoration of 13 species of fish and that manatees would once again have access to warm-water springs that feed the river.

"A free-flowing river will continue to provide recreational opportunities, including fishing and paddling, that are critical to tourism and the local economy," Bush wrote.

Bush also said the recreational area now surrounding the reservoir could still be renamed after Kirkpatrick without legislation.

Bush's veto was praised by environmentalists who have long sought to tear down the Kirkpatrick Dam in Putnam County and restore the Ocklawaha River to its natural state.

"It's great that the governor has been a champion on this," said Eric Draper of Florida Audubon. "He has been constant in his support for a free-flowing Ocklawaha River. This has been a priority for the environmental community in Florida."

Bush's veto did not surprise longtime supporters of the dam, who noted that the veto would just continue the standoff over the future of the dam that has gone on for the past decade.

The dam was part of the ill-fated Cross Florida Barge canal project that was stopped by President Richard Nixon in 1971. The reservoir created by the dam has become a bass-fishing haven that attracts thousands each year for fishing and recreation.

"It didn't surprise us," said Ed Taylor, president of Save Rodman Reservoir. "We're back to the status quo; it doesn't go anywhere."

Taylor said he would officially request that legislative leaders try to override Bush's veto - which would take a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate.

"I would not be doing my job if I didn't do it," Taylor said.

Smith said he doubted that legislators would take that drastic step. The Legislature has not voted to override a single veto made by Bush since he became governor in 1999. He predicted that instead legislators would pass the bill again during the 2004 session and that the impasse over the dam would continue.

"I would think that it's not likely that the reserve will be created in the near future or the dam will be destroyed in the near future," Smith said.