That was me.
State must revisit boat ramp project
By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
Published February 13, 2005


With the start of the spring boating season just a month away, mariners won't find it any easier to get their craft in the water.

Many marinas that once moored the public's boats are going private because the land that serves as dry storage brings a higher price as condominiums. The public ramps, the places where most working folks launch their boats, are crowded and few and far between.

And relief is nowhere is sight.

Pinellas County officials had hoped to build a million-dollar, fee-based, four-lane boat ramp on state land at Honeymoon Island, then turn the operation and profits over to the Florida Park Service.

"After careful consideration, we have determined that construction of a boat ramp at Honeymoon Island State Park would damage endangered mangroves and sensitive sea grasses, which provide important wildlife habitat," wrote Mike Bullock, director of the park service, in a Jan. 14 letter to Susan Latvala, chairman of the Pinellas County Commission.

"A park boat ramp would also increase traffic and road congestion for our neighbors living outside the park."

State park officials held a hearing last week in Dunedin and told the boating public that plans did not include a ramp.

"This has become a very big problem," said Latvala, a boater who is fortunate enough to live on the water. "I don't know how people are going to get access. We are running out of options. Land is just so expensive."

There are some good ramps in the area, such as the modern launching area at Fort De Soto, perhaps one of the busiest in the state. But one big ramp isn't enough to keep up with demand. Tampa Bay, with approximately 2.5-million people, has 131,000 registered boats and 52 public ramps. Boaters come from as far as Okeechobee and Lake City to use Fort De Soto's ramp, according to a recent study by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

State officials estimate that residents and tourists make more than 5-million visits to public ramps each year, with a total economic impact of $1,337,608,855.

According to Lyle Fowler with the county parks department, most of the objections to the Honeymoon Island boat ramp proposal came from environmentalists.

"There was a lot of concern about environmental impact," Fowler said. "More people spoke out against the boat ramp than were for it."

As a boater and fan of the Florida Park Service and Honeymoon Island,I found the state's response to Pinellas County's request disheartening.

The ocean is a public resource which everybody has a right to enjoy. That includes flats fishermen, kayakers, bird watchers, board sailors, kite surfers, pleasure boaters, scuba divers, even personal watercraft enthusiasts.

Honeymoon Island State Park is a fragile environment that needs to be preserved, but it already has a facility to ferry people to nearby Caladesi Island's boat-only park, and Honeymoon has plenty of parking. With a little creative thinking (the state and county have their share of bright-minded people) somebody should be able to come up with a solution that would be a win for both sides.

If it were a wealthy private developer making the request, I'm sure a solution would be found. Why not give "the little guy" the same consideration for a change?

What do you think? Let your elected officials know:

Mike Bullock, Florida State Parks, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., Tallahassee, FL 32399;Latvala, Pinellas County Commission, 315 Court St., Clearwater FL 33756.

[Last modified February 13, 2005, 01:08:17]