Swim­ming hole owner says per­mits would sink him

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - Gainesville Sun

The Suwan­nee River Wa­ter Man­age­ment District may be at the end of its rope with Bob's River Place, a pop­u­lar if some­what dan­ger­ous Dixie County recre­ation spot with swings and slides into the fa­bled wa­ter­way.

Owner Bob Hawkins has built struc­tures — in­clud­ing a float­ing dock, sand­bag re­ten­tion walls to pre­vent ero­sion, a ramp to the river and bleach­ers — with­out get­ting per­mits that the district main­tains are re­quired to en­sure that the river is not im­pacted and its flow im­peded, the district con­tends.

So far Hawkins has re­fused to get the per­mits, say­ing the struc­tures in ques­tion have been in place for decades. He said the en­gi­neer­ing and other costs of per­mit­ting are too ex­pen­sive.

War­ren Zwanka, the wa­ter man­age­ment agency's re­source man­age­ment di­rec­tor, said if Hawkins does not file per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions, the gov­ern­ing board will get a pre­sen­ta­tion on the mat­ter at its Tues­day meet­ing.

“We had a com­plaint in Au­gust 2016 and dur­ing that in­ves­ti­ga­tion we de­ter­mined there were some un­per­mit­ted struc­tures. We en­gaged Mr. Hawkins in the per­mit­ting process and he has been un­will­ing to com­plete the ap­pli­ca­tion,” Zwanka said. “The only thing we can do at this point is take it to our gov­ern­ing board to make the fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion on what's go­ing to hap­pen with that per­mit.”

The district also con­tends Hawkins is run­ning a busi­ness that prof­its off state prop­erty — sov­er­eign sub­merged land — with­out a lease from the state Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion.

Hawkins doesn't be­lieve he needs the per­mits. He said the sand­bags have been in place since the mid-1970s and should be grand­fa­thered in with the per­mits he does have.

The dock, Hawkins said, ac­tu­ally a float­ing splash pad.

“It seems like no mat­ter what I tell them, they have a one-track mind. They say per­mits, per­mits, per­mits. All they can think about is new per­mits,” Hawkins said. “They say they want to treat this place like a new project. I say it's not a new project — it's been here 45 years.”

Hawkins said he bought the prop­erty in the early 1970s and grad­u­ally be­gan adding fea­tures in­clud­ing plat­forms and ropes with which to swing out over the river and let go for a plunge.

Neigh­bor­ing kids started com­ing to over, then more peo­ple. Docks and slides were added.

An en­trance fee is not charged. How­ever cus­tomers must pay a park­ing fee that ranges be­tween $25 and $35, de­pend­ing on the num­ber of peo­ple in the car. No life­guards are present and users must sign a waiver.

In its early years, Bob's was pretty much a hang­out for just lo­cals. But to­day, Bob's now draws crowds from through­out Florida and other states.

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