PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. — The future of a controversial dam in Putnam county impacts people all the way to Jacksonville.
The Kirkpatrick Dam at Rodman Reservoir was built in 1968. It was part of a failed plan to dig a shipping canal across Florida.
The canal concept was abandoned, but not before the Ocklawaha River was dredged and dammed.
Now, the battle over whether to shut down the dam hinges on three issues that affect all of us.
One – is the dam stable enough to stand, and not collapse?
Two – how much will shutting down the dam improve the health of the St. Johns River? Many argue it would add millions of gallons of freshwater.
And three – will losing the reservoir by the dam hurt the fishing industry which has become an economic engine in that region?
Margaret Spontak has become a key player in this debate, and it's personal.
She promised her brother on his deathbed that she would continue his work to protect the environment.
"I love my brother deeply," Spontak said. "People knew him as a blues harmonica player."
Thinking about her vow to him, she told First Coast News, "I just want to do something for him that would be lasting."
She now leads the effort to shut down the Kirkpatrick Dam, more commonly known as the Rodman Dam. Her goal is to release the Ocklawaha River to flow freely again. In doing so, she and many say fresh spring water could move from Silver Springs near Ocala to the St. Johns River, all the way up to Jacksonville.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is about to release a report card on the health of the 50-year-old dam.
A 2018 report from the DEP said if the dam failed, 400+ properties could potentially be in harm's way.
Some believe that is a real possibility.
St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman opposes the dam. She told First Coast News, "If there was an uncontrolled breach, there would be a wave of water coming in. So it would inundate properties and then dissipate. But you would see flooding in a very quick amount of time”
However, Steve Miller, the President of Save the Rodman Reservoir, said the dam will be fine with routine repairs.
“It is not at a point where there is any imminent threat of failure of any portion of the mechanical structure of the dam," Miller said.
He and many others want to keep the dam to preserve the 9,600 acre reservoir it helped create.
"It's world class fishing! People travel from all of the place to fish there," Miller noted.
On top of the economics, he says the vegetation on the bottom of the reservoir actually purifies the water that flows out of the dam.
"If you tear it down today, you’re increasing the nutrient load going to the St. Johns River," Miller said.
Both sides believe their way is better for the environment.
As for Spontak, she will continue working to restore a naturally flowing river, something she knows her brother would want too.
Smiling, she said, "Absolutely, he would be there ready to play his harmonica!"