Anchoring Proposal Could Hurt Boaters

By Ginny Sherlock, Special to www.FloridaSportsman.com

As part of a pilot project, the City of St. Petersburg will be allowed to develop an ordinance limiting nearby anchoring.

The Martin County Board of County Commissioners has voted unanimously to press forward with a seriously flawed and overly broad ordinance developed in a pilot program to test local regulation of waters of the state without addressing concerns expressed by boating organizations and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff.  The ordinance prohibits anchoring and mooring within 1,000 feet of the shoreline of the Indian River Lagoon near the Jensen Beach Causeway and anywhere in the Manatee Pocket except for two designated anchoring areas, making it unlawful to drop anchor for a few hours to fish or to enjoy a sunny day on the water.

Only the state has authority to enforce rules regarding safety, anchoring, mooring, and the environment in waters of the state.  However, under a pilot program established by Florida Statute 327.4105, certain local jurisdictions may regulate anchoring and mooring outside public mooring fields between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2014. The program is aimed at encouraging new public mooring fields, promoting access to waters of the state, enhancing navigational safety, protecting maritime infrastructure, protecting the marine environment and deterring abandoned or derelict vessels.  Pilot program participants must be “associated with” an existing mooring field. Martin County partnered with the City of Stuart, which has a functioning mooring field, to apply for the program.  Although a mooring field has been proposed in the Indian River Lagoon south of the Jensen Beach Causeway, the project has not yet been constructed and most likely won’t be operational before the pilot program ends.

Nonetheless, FWC awarded Stuart-Martin County a place in the five-member pilot program.  Other participants are the City of St. Augustine, City of St. Petersburg, City of Sarasota, and Monroe County-Marathon-Key West.  Each participant was required to hold two public meetings and to develop a local ordinance regulating anchoring and mooring in waters within their boundaries.  The local ordinances must be approved by the FWC.  The City of Stuart-Martin County limited public participation by scheduling the required meetings at different times on the same day, rather than on two different days.  Members of the public were supportive of the concept of the pilot program but raised concerns about the potential for overreaching local regulation.

Those concerns have been borne out in the proposed ordinance drafted by the City of Stuart and Martin County.

FWC staff complained that while there is no existing mooring field, the local ordinance prohibits anchoring or mooring within 1,000 feet of the Indian River shoreline around the Jensen Beach Causeway and prohibits anchoring in the Manatee Pocket except in two designated areas.  Anchoring also is prohibited within 300 feet of any “maritime infrastructure,” which includes “any floating structure.”  These prohibitions could restrict, rather than promote, access to waters of the state.

The City of Stuart’s mooring field is so close to the City’s boundary line, FWC felt Martin County should be included in the regulatory scheme to regulate waters surrounding the mooring field outside City limits. But FWC staff advised the County that until the Jensen Beach Mooring Field is actually constructed and operational, it cannot support efforts to limit anchoring and mooring in the Indian Riveror the Manatee Pocket.  Boat US and the Seven Seas Cruising Association also made extensive comments about the proposed local ordinance, pointing out consequences to local and day cruisers and anglers.  For instance, boat operators must demonstrate “operability” by navigating to a designated location once every six months – without identifying the “designated location.” And boaters must successfully complete the voluntary USCG auxiliary vessel safety check annually.  There is no “safe harbor” language to allow flexibility in enforcement due to mechanical or weather problems.

Non-compliance with the local ordinance may subject a violator to a criminal misdemeanor charge.  This mechanism, unlike progressive fines and code enforcement citations employed by other participants, could result in a permanent criminal record for a boater who runs afoul of the ordinance, even after the pilot program ends.

FWC staff asked Martin County to reconsider its ordinance to address these and other serious concerns before taking it to the state commission for approval.  At the Martin County Commission meeting on April 24, 2012, commissioners refused to narrow the scope of the proposed local regulation.  Despite objections from the boating community and local marine industry representatives, commissioners instructed staff to press forward with an overreaching, overbroad, vague and ill-conceived ordinance.

The ordinance will go before the FWC at its June 27-28 or September 5-6 meeting.  Information is available from FWC’s website which features an anchoring and mooring section. Comments by Boat US and Seven Seas Cruising Association are available from www.boatus.com and www.sssca.org while the proposed ordinance is available on the Martin County website.  Comments and questions may be directed to FFWCC at Thomas.Shipp@MyFWC.com and Jack.Daugherty@MyFWC.com.