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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Plan to save Little Rock Cannery praised


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BROOKSVILLE - County commissioners Tuesday roundly praised the efforts of a volunteer group for working to save the Little Rock Cannery, north of Brooksville.

The cannery, where people go to prepare their fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood to be jarred, has come close to closing due to budget cuts. Board members voted in September to fund it through the end of the year.

The board asked supporters of the cannery to get together between now and Jan. 1 to draft a business plan and figure out a way to keep it operating. Until then, the county will fund the facility to the tune of about $15,000.

On Tuesday, commissioners heard about the progress from the spokeswoman of the group, Renee Oij.

Oij said it was apparent that the cannery cannot sustain itself on member subscriptions and so must look for alternative funding sources.

"The cannery must be run as a business," said Oij, a member of the Leadership Hernando Class of 2013.

To that end, the group plans to pursue grants, form partnerships with businesses and other agencies and form a "friends of the cannery" group which would hold fundraisers and hold community events.

The Hernando County Extension office and 4-H groups have also offered support to help promote Little Rock and attend cannery events.

Oij said she has talked with the school district, which has expressed an interest in incorporating the cannery into its curriculum, possibly using it as a field trip to the facility, located at Citrus Way and U.S. 98,

"Membership alone cannot sustain the cannery," she said.

The cost of an annual family membership is $50 for up to four family members living in the same household. Daily-use passes may be purchased for $10 per day. The cannery has 96 members, including 43 annual members and 53 daily-use passes.

Oij also unveiled a new logo for the Little Rock Cannery. Proponents stress the healthy process of natural, organically grown food. Marketing efforts include the creation of a new website, "jam parties," promotion at special events, a membership drive and sponsorship packages.

Commissioner Diane Rowden was so impressed that she asked her colleagues to extend funding for the cannery through September, which would give supporters another eight months to work on the operational plan.

"I see great potential for Hernando County, for the Little Rock Cannery and for tourism," Rowden said.

Commission Chairman Dave Russell asked the administrator to put the matter on the agenda for next week's meeting for discussion but, given the progress of the group, did not foresee a problem with extending the funding.

Also at Tuesday's meeting:

? County commissioners voted to move forward on the redesign of its wastewater treatment plant at the airport after hearing a report from Environmental Services Director Susan Goebel-Canning that the project will come in millions of dollars cheaper than expected.

The facility will be expanded in phases and interconnected to the Glen facility. The current treatment plant on Osowaw Boulevard will be decommissioned.

The cost of the airport treatment plant expansion will be less than $20 million. The facility currently treats 1 million gallons of wastewater per day. The expansion will treat an additional 2.5 million gallons. With the approval, Hernando County Utilities will incorporate the cost savings into the expansion design and go to construction in the summer of 2014.

Goebel-Canning said that while the negotiation phase took longer than anticipated, the Osowaw facility is still on schedule to be odor-free by the summer of 2016. The smells emanating from that site have long been a concern from retailers and residents who live nearby.

"The process to decommission the Osowaw Plant will begin immediately," said Goebel-Canning. "The plant's odor and maintenance needs have been problematic for too long. We all are eager to have this plant offline."

The Osowaw facility is expected to be offline by 2016 and demolished by the summer of 2017, she said.

? Commissioners postponed a decision on a request from the Suncoast Parkway Trust to rezone a 4-acre site on the west side of Winter Street, north of Horn Avenue, from commercial to residential.

Charles Sheffield, a trustee with Suncoast Trust, said the downturn in the economy makes it unlikely the property could be developed commercially and instead sought approval to build homes there.

Planning and zoning board members last month recommended denying the request because it would be inconsistent with the commercial texture of the surrounding property.

? Acting on advice from their attorney, county commissioners did not discuss the ongoing lawsuit filed against Hernando County by Costa Homes that would stop the county from demolishing unfinished homes at Trails at Rivard.

That lawsuit was filed Nov. 1, according to the Hernando County Clerk's Office.

? Commissioners heard a presentation from Tourism Development Coordinator Tammy Heon about the ongoing restoration of the Chinsegut Hill Manor north of Brooksville.

That restoration is under way and organizers will hold a fundraiser this weekend to show off the progress to the public.

A members-only reception will be held from 6-9 p.m. Friday. A community celebration is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The free event will feature family activities, arts and crafts, music, food and beverages.

(352) 544-5290

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