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In a Victory for Flagler Boaters, FWC Rejects Its Staff’s Proposed Manatee Speed Zones

| June 8, 2011

Rules are made to be compromised. (Fish and Wildlife Commission)

Flagler County has no manatee-protection plan. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has been looking to develop one. That usually means speed zones on the Intracoastal Waterway. Boaters don’t like speed zones. But some sort of plan looked inevitable once the commission started working on a protection plan. A local advisory committee was named in accordance with law to react to the state’s plan.

Fish and Wildlife’s initial proposal would have created speed zones along 6.7 miles of the Intracoastal’s 18-mile Flagler portion. Facing stiff opposition from local politicians, including the full weight of the Flagler County Commission—whose staff made no bones about whose sides it was on: the boaters—and a majority of the members of the local rules review committee, Fish and Wildlife compromised down to 3.8 miles of speed zones, and a much narrower manatee season when the speed zones are in effect.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission board heard the compromise today at its meeting in St. Augustine—and rejected it.  The seven-member board directed its staff to go back to the negotiating table (or the drawing board) and compromise again with boating advocates.

“This is not uncommon, that’s why we have these meetings,” Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Joy Hill said. “They want our folks to go back out and work more with the county, with the stakeholders.”

The outcome is unexpected, however. The commission staff’s recommendations were expected to hold sway at today’s meeting, particularly in light of the compromises the recommendations represented. Had the commission accepted the recommendations, they would have triggered public hearings and final approval at the commission’s November meeting in Naples. Instead, the commission now expects to have a reworked plan, presumably more in favor of Flagler County’s position than the commission’s own staff, to be presented at that November meeting.

For Flagler, it is only the latest in an impressive string of victories against state projects (or presumptions) planned for the county. In April, the county’s joint governments beat back a State Department of Transportation plan to build a sea wall in Flagler Beach. Earlier this year, a similar joint government effort beat back a DOT plan to build a sizeable weigh station on U.S. 1, near Royal Palm Parkway in Palm Coast. On Tuesday, the Palm Coast City Council celebrated beating back objections by the Department of Community Affairs to two massive new developments on the west side of the city. The county had not expected to prevail over Fish and Wildlife. County commissioners spoke openly of the commission’s likelihood of doing what its staff would recommend.

The Flagler County administration tried to win over the Flagler Beach Commission to its case, hurriedly asking for—and being granted—a special meeting of the city commission on Monday to win approval of a resolution supporting the county’s position. The county didn’t get it. Commissioners resented the last-minute tactic and tabled the matter, though as it turned out, the county got much of its way with the wildlife commission anyway.

Manatee advocates saw Wednesday’s action as a clear setback.

“It’s really preposterous the level that FWC was willing to go to to try to accommodate the county,” Katie Tripp, the Save the Manatee Club’s director of science and conservation, said. “I’m pretty disappointed in the FWCV commissioners.” Tripp pointed to a sharp reversal during the meeting when, earlier, on another issue, commissioners made a point of standing by staff recommendations, only to reverse course on the manatee matter. “Then manatee staff get up and present this proposal and they completely disrespect them,” Tripp said.

Tripp was one of nine people who spoke in favor of the commission staff’s recommendations (though at least two had favored adopting the staff’s original recommendation, for 6.7 miles of speed zones, not the latter, watered down version). Others included Palm Coast’s Jane Culpepper and Don White of the Environmental Council of Volusia and Flagler counties. The county countered with its attorney (Al Hadeed), Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts, himself a boater, Doug Baxter, who heads the local chamber of commerce, and Richard McCleery, also a boater. The Flagler portion of the meeting took place in the middle of the afternoon, lasting about an hour.

(The manatee rule presentation is available here. The two-day meeting is being held at the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village in St. Augustine.)

Netts welcomed the outcome. “It’s a compromise, so that’s probably a good thing,”  he said, though he stressed that he was by no means opposed to speed zones. “I’m not so much interested in whittling down” the proposed speed zones further, he said, “but I really like what we call the split channel.” The county is proposing to split various segments of the Intracoastal into slow zones on one side and 25 to 30 miles per hour zones in the other, essentially halving any risk to manatees.

The county has been arguing all along that one manatee death per year (the average recorded by Fish and Wildlife data) does not warrant drastic action on the Intracoastal, especially in light of a manatee population that’s returned to much healthier levels than where it was 20 years ago. Netts doesn’t credit the speed zones for that. “Coincidence is not cause and effect,” he said. “The manatee population could have increased totally independent of the speed zone.”

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15 Responses for “In a Victory for Flagler Boaters, FWC Rejects Its Staff’s Proposed Manatee Speed Zones”

  1. Justice for All says:

    The City of Palm Coast election can’t come soon enough.

  2. lawabidingcitizen says:

    The same people will be re-elected. Public apathy is epidemic throughout the land.

  3. Taxed says:

    I am glad about their decision!!

  4. Art Woosley says:

    Nothing surprising here, in good old Flagler County the TAIL which = ( the chamber, and of course it’s affiliates) always wags the DOG, which = ( the county commission). ***actually, they are one in the same.

    Why, they the county, even sent out a county employee this week that is on the “public payroll”, his job,simply to lobby the smaller cities to go along with them, and against the the expert advise put forth by the FWC.

    Talk about a joke, we the tax payers, are now paying a county ( lobbyist ) with our own money, to help destroy our own environment ? Thanks must go to the city officials in both Flagler Beach and Beverly Beach for having integrity, as the majority of them stood their ground, and refused to bow down to the “special interests”.

  5. Richard Hamilton says:

    I couldnt be at the meeting today, not that it would have made any differenece, but in my view this is a better decision than approving the watered down limits. Now maybe we have a chance to rethink and rework the county position. Personally, I would like to see some sort of limitation from Bings Landing south to the Palm Coast Park just north of Grand Haven. Probably a combination of some absolute slow wake zones, and some limitations “out of channel”

    I live on the intracoastal and am a boater with what the FWC terms a “fast boat” that can do over 30 mph, not that i drive that fast most times. I am also kayaker and hate when someone plows by without any regard for the wake they cause. Most local people i know have a keen sense of courtesy and know the sensitive areas, but passers-by can be real trouble. Some of you may remember the cigarette boat races in recent years.

    So, on one hand, I think speed zones would be very beneficial to our local economy. Eco-tourism is a targeted market for our local tourism council and allowing kayakers to get through certain areas of the ICW safely should be a priority. Also slow speed zones might encourage transient boaters to actually stop and fuel up or buy lunch or even stop for the night.

    And then there are the manatees. I have some visitors with me from the UK so it took them over to Blue Springs, Deland on Friday to do a boat cruise so they could see some manatees in the St. Johns. We saw a couple. Sunday i took them out for a ride up to Matanzas Inlet. At Canopy Walk (Milissa Holland’s back door) we passed a group of kayakers and naturally slowed to a crawl. Then i spotted a pod of 4 manatees including a baby, all swimming south. It was a better sighting than we saw in Volusia. I have had manatees grazing on the sea grass by my dock on the ICW.

    I am really not understanding why our elected officials are being so short sighted in this. Sea Ray can get a waiver for testing their boats in the channel so that cannot be an issue. Jon Netts can probably get a waiver too if his tow boats are called out on an emergency. Let everyone else slow down for a few minutes and appreciate Flagler County.

  6. palmcoaster says:

    Art I agree with you regarding the Flagler County Chamber of Outsourcing being “the tail that wags our elected one’s and their many failed projects”. Now do not be misguided regarding who this chamber represents…not most its affiliates the small businesses, but the developers, big corporate moguls and their cheering crowd of some local professionals to benefit from their undermining greedy proposals.
    We have about 9,000 small businesses struggling to survive right now in Flagler County and its cities combined and about only 10 percent or less are chamber affiliates. That tells you something right there.
    So please do not have most of us, small business owners the real local jobs creators, in such an ill reputation as we are not their affiliates and do more for our local colleagues, helping each other in a friendly and positive competition and also donating to our local community organizations when possible, and with much less fanfare than chamber and their well paid appointees do.

  7. elaygee says:

    Put John Netts and firends in the intracoastal and let them swim thru the barrage of speeding boats and see if they survive and flourish.

  8. FB says:

    All you manatee lovers don’t worry, your man at the helm, obama, has made sure that we have saved the manatee the environment and every thing else via high gas prices. We’ll all be kyakers and snailboters not by choice but necessity. Oh, wait a minute we should ban sailboats. They have keels and may hit a manatee.

  9. Art Woosley says:

    Thanks Palmcoaster, I fully understand and agree with you a hundred percent , be assured this is nothing to do with our small business owners, they are great, and we should all appreciate, and support them.

    This is all about a small group of so-called (players) in our county, players who are out for their own ends, they are often able to control, and or manipulate weaker county, and city officials into getting their way. (often at public expense)

    In addition, some of these players, have been planted on government boards with the support of the chamber, simply in hope they will do their bidding, something once elected these people appear more than willing to do, which of course in turn, helps insure their own re-election.

    The danger here however, comes when these same elected officials,start operating as “hand puppets” for the chamber, which in many cases is not always in the (publics best interests) , the same public who pay the taxes, this issue appears to be a classic case. (**the tail wagging the dog syndrome)

    What is most disturbing about this whole matter, is the fact a local mayor who it has been said, may also be involved in a local tow boat business, and was in fact also the (lead) person on this local board. Take into account, such a business if it does indeed exist, would more than likely operate in and around, the very same speed zone locations currently being negotiated.

    The question then becomes, how much influence would that persons presence exert on that board, regadless of a tow business or not. More importantly, how would this persons presence effect the final outcome of this important environmental decision ? (*check recent aticles in local papers to see, of course none mention anything about a tow service, something which has yet to be verified. ( If the media does know anything, they are not talking for reasons only known to them ? )

    To be fair however, this mayor, nor any other elected official, should have ever been offered, or have accepted, a seat at that table in the first place, let alone be the CHAIR.

    Much of this , will prove very unfortunate for the future of Flagler County, because it’s very special environment, and for OUR manatees as all will suffer. When an upsurge in growth returns as it will, it will also bring with it many more vessels, vessels which will be bigger and faster, eroding even more shoreline grasses ( a food source for manatees) and creating havoc for the local wildlife.

    We must also not forget also, that during the winter months of 2009 and 2010 these manatees took a catastrophic hit from “cold stress” which killed hundreds, all this information should have been taken into account in that process, as possibly more cold winters could be on the horizon.

    Being a resident of Florida for well over forty years now, I have learned , that when GREED becomes a factor in any decision making, our unique environment will seldom if ever, trump those of the “special interests”, something which is indeed very sad, for the many generations who will follow.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    Art here is your answer to the not clear yet, possible conflict of interest. Click on the link and you will find “your mayor” in the list of captains by scrolling down, working for Stebleton captain and owner of the local franchise..among many more;
    There is one benefit to have a mayor captain tough. He helps when available, to gather and dispose of dangerous navigable debris floating around in our intra coastal and saltwater canals and does it out of good will an pro bono. I believe and hope. As a mayor would be nice that will take up our city to investigate, if ITT selling of all our palmcoasters amenities was illegal after over 30 years of use, as a group of residents is pursuing to investigate and is waiting for the city reply on this. Palm Coast Marina serving palmcoasters was sold to Centex that shut down our free launching ramps, except the profitable pumps and limited for us the docking space. After all BoatUS Tow uses the Marina as a registered address for their operations and now owned by Pulte homes. But I do not really think that the mayor may want to worry too much Pulte home, by aiding in this investigation as the outcome could be for Pulte loosing the Marina and having to refund the city the 5 million or more for repairing our Palm Harbor Golf Course after Centex’s neglect. At the very end all will be rescinded to ITT anyway and Palm Coast. Palm Coast Marina still very profitable, so right there one more reason to recoup.
    After experiencing the avionic thunder and destructive wake speed of a cigarette boat irresponsible racing on the intracoastal and holding my heart for any dolphins, hugue sea turtles or manatees slow moving on its way, two summers ago, I can reassure you that I am also on our defenseless wild life advocacy. What this “off shore monster machine build to race only”, had to do in such a small water way other than show off? For sure no coast guard auxiliary, sheriff or wild life officers patrols around on them.
    Next day “maybe coincidental” a couple of about 30 inches diameter loggerheads (I believe ) were bobling dead in a nearby section of intra coastal. Fresh whole carcasses one missing two extremities.
    All risponsible boaters should have been supporting the proposed low speed zones. After all what is the rush, just will take us a little longer to get there. Relax and enjoy the view.aka smell the roses. The one’s in need of tow will have to wait also a little longer…unless an emergency documented.
    I am one of those that slow or stop for our wildlife friends. What will be our surroundings without them.!

  11. Justice for All says:

    Palm Coaster, I now carry a camera with me to document what I see. I suggest you do the same. Pictures of dead animals, unfortunately, does seem to motivate otherwise indifferent humans.

  12. Art Woosley says:

    P.C. Yes, it clearly seems that it should be a (conflict of interest), however the the NJ from it’s recent articles seems reluctant to go there, as does this site both for reasons unknown.

    I live on the waterway in the preserve,and can assure you that the majority of manatees have propeller scars on their backs, some run the entire length. I also have one photo from (Save the Manatee) of a manatee they call “Scooter”, which was able to survive the loss of over half it’s tail, which of course is the part it must use to move it through the water.

    Two professional photographers visited my house in the last year, at a time when as many as thirty or more manatees were playing for here for over an hour. They were both able to enjoy these playful creatures, and also able to see them up close and document some of the boating damage done, so as you know, this is much bigger than counting deaths alone. ** I am also a boater by the way.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    Art we have in our salt water canal in the Country Club Cove about 10 to 20 manatees and their offspring’s playing around at the dead end where they probably perceive that high speed boat traffic is not as bad. I also notice the large whitish scars on their backs left by propellers that hit them. Some of those scars are deep. These animals are so gentle, shy and friendly at times and a joy to watch keeping our distance. They love to munch on the vines that drop by the waterfront and at times the even roll over sticking their flaps or snouts out on a strong air exhaling sound. We should all respect and learn how to share our environment with our wildlife as they were here first and we are encroaching on their original territories. These animals don’t even know we can hurt them, so they deserve our compassion.

  14. Larry Vogt says:

    11 years ago I discovered the coastal gem that is Palm Coast and decided to relocate from Jacksonville. I am an avid boater and fisherman and spend roughly 75-80 days a year on the water, both inshore and offshore. The no wake zones will have a very negative impact on Flagler County. It is a bad idea. With that said, no one wants to harm these animals. It can be addressed in 3 areas:

    #1 Science. The Florida manatee population has grown over the last several decades. The number of boats on the water has also increased over the same period. It is public awareness and the manatees own adaptation that has preserved and grown the population. It has also been shown that manatees can hear the higher pitch of a boats engines when they are speed from a greater distance. They then seek safety and sound. Manatees are less likely to pick up boat engine noise at idle or “no wake”. They tend to remain surfaced. If you spend enough time on the water, you will have had a manatee surface near your idling boat.

    #2 Economy. No wake laden coastal areas are undesirable and users will seek to avoid them. A 3.5 mile no wake stretch will ad 45 minutes to 1 hour of travel time. This will not make people “enjoy” the area. Users will avoid it. It become faster to trailer or store your boat outside of Flagler County. Flagler will lose the revenue associated with boating and fishing. You wouldn’t choose route with the most traffic or lowest speed limits if you were driving to work. Palm Coast has an extensive canal system with water access. This is very desirable for boaters and a majority of boaters in Flagler county live on these canals. The canals need to be no wake. If the waters they lead into are laden with no wake zones, what is the point of having access? Also, extensive no wake zones increase your chance of lightning strike on the water in the event of a thunderstorm. It would push boaters to coastal areas outside of Flagler. As an avid offshore tournament fisherman, I travel along the east coast of FL to fish out of various inlets. I stay at hotels and marinas that are located in areas least impacted by no wake zones. Every other tournament team I know does the same. We all spend our monies in the same places. The marinas and hotels that are located within long stretches of no wake zones are often empty.

    #3. Users vs. non-users. Boaters use the waterways much like drivers use the roadways. Boaters are affected by no wake zones, not non-boaters. To put it in perspective, we don’t close streets or interstates because of an unfortunate, accidental strike of an animal by a vehicle. We do not ground aircraft when an airplane strikes a bird in the sky. Why? Because the majority of us are users of roadways and airspace. No boater wishes any harm to manatees, turtles, dolphin, etc. In addition, boaters are cautious so as not to damage their boat or running gear. So why should non user groups impose regulation that will negatively impact the user group? Keep in mind that marina gas, fishing tackle, etc has tax built into it that goes to conservation. Only USERS are paying those taxes.

  15. John Caprio says:

    I was at the meeting where the presentation was done and I feel that both sides made good arguments. I am a boater and support the commissions position that if there are to be zones, they should be the 25 to 35 in channel zones. The facts were presented, 10 Manatees have been killed in 10 years and only one in the areas of concern, all the others were outside of the Intracoastal so the FWC did the right thing and rejected the staffs recommendations. The numbers don’t lie and the facts are clear.

    Its much safer for the Manatees in Flagler county than those of us that drive on the streets of Palm Coast because those same people for the manatees are the same ones who cant drive!!!

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