SMC--Here They Go Again

Old 08-26-2005, 12:48 AM
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Default SMC--Here They Go Again

County Could Make Slow-Speed Zones In Bay Mandatory

RUSKIN - A debate simmering on the back burner for months over whether to mandate slow boat speeds to protect manatees in the shallows of southern Tampa Bay could soon come to a full boil.
The Hillsborough County Commission will hold a public hearing Sept. 21 to decide whether to amend the county's manatee protection ordinance to mandate those slow- speed zones. The hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. on the second floor of the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd.

County officials gave the Cockroach Bay Users Group, or C-BUG, three years to educate boaters about the need to slow down in the shallows of southern Tampa Bay to protect endangered manatees and their main food source, seagrass beds. In exchange, the county agreed to no government regulation.

The three years ended in December. C-BUG has asked for a two-year extension of voluntary compliance.

Some county officials and advocates fighting to protect the slow-moving marine mammals say C-BUG failed in its mission because it did not document boat speeds as promised and can't prove the voluntary effort worked.

Richard Sullivan, manager of the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve, said propeller scars are still prevalent in the seagrass beds and boaters are still speeding in the shallows.

C-BUG isn't ready to call it quits and plans to ask the commission for more time.

Enforcement Entanglement

The Hillsborough County Public Safety Department, which regulates marine safety, with the backing of an ad hoc committee made up of boaters and environmental groups, will recommend designating Cockroach Bay as a mandatory slow-speed, no-wake zone. The area will stretch from the mouth of the Little Manatee River south to the Manatee County line.

C-BUG President Charlie Feldschau says the group hasn't monitored boat traffic to the extent it should have. But he said mandating slow speeds will do little to protect manatees and will be difficult to enforce because the state doesn't have enough marine officers.

``People will not pay attention to the mandate,'' Feldschau said. ``It's a waste of time.''

Ed Benus, a former C-BUG president who lives on the Little Manatee, said speeders will ignore the mandate. ``People don't change overnight,'' he said. ``I still believe education is the way to go.''

He also said C-BUG members worked hard to produce and distribute educational materials about manatees but failed to adequately document boater speeds.

Others say C-BUG forfeited its rights by breaking its promise, and now it's time for stricter enforcement as is practiced elsewhere along the bay's shoreline.

``The bottom line is C-BUG didn't keep their commitment,'' said Suzanne Tarr, a biologist with the statewide Save the Manatee Club. ``To work, a voluntary area would require a good volunteer network and scientific monitoring.'' C-BUG doesn't have enough volunteers to scour the area and educate boaters, she said.

County marine safety coordinator Chuck Coleman agreed.

``I went to every single C- BUG meeting, and at every meeting I brought up that they hadn't been gathering data,'' Coleman said. Just before the three years ended, C-BUG members collected four weekends worth of data on boater patterns, but that was not enough, he said.

``Our office has no leaning one way or the other,'' Coleman said. But his office will recommend the mandatory slow-speed zone, he said, in part because the ad hoc committee overwhelmingly agreed the area should be regulated.

Remove Seagrass Instead?

Feldschau said the proposed rules are overzealous and unnecessary.

``A lot of people that fish in the flats don't like it,'' he said of the proposed mandatory slow-speed zones. ``They have to go fast to stay out of the seagrass.

Feldschau's solution would be to remove all seagrass from channels and other areas frequented by boaters. That way, he said, manatees would stay out of those areas and the problem would be solved.

Cockroach Bay has some of the most productive seagrass beds in Tampa Bay, but it also has some of the most badly scarred grass beds, torn up by boat traffic, said Nanette Holland, public outreach coordinator for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

``Cockroach Bay doesn't belong to one group of people,'' and the county and state have an obligation to protect it, Holland said.

Reporter Yvette C. Hammett can be reached at (813) 657-4532.
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Old 08-27-2005, 04:28 AM
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Default Re: SMC--Here They Go Again

Yep, the $MC will never go away, UNTIL ALL FL. INLAND WATERWAYS ARE MANATEE ZONES! I'm glad they are done phucking with us folks in Brevard co.!
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Old 08-27-2005, 08:37 AM
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Default Re: SMC--Here They Go Again

It should be attemped to point out that a boat draws less draft up on plane than at idle speed, thus less chance of damaging the sea grass.

I absolutely hate that *^#!king $ave the Manatee Club.
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