Public Mostly Rejects State Proposal for 2.7 Miles of Manatee Speed Zones in Flagler Waters
FlaglerLive | February 29, 2012
Few of the 35-odd people who turned out for a hearing Wednesday evening on three proposed speed zones to protect manatees in Flagler County’s portion of the Intracoastal Waterway supported those speed zones. Instead, speaker after speaker criticized the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s proposal as overregulation disconnected from the economic and even biological realities of Flagler waters: no manatee deaths have been recorded in the past two years in Flagler, but, critics said, unemployment is high and speed zones will further strain what economic activity should be encouraged.
“We’re solving a problem that I don’t think is a problem in Flagler County,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said. Netts chaired the local rule-review committee established by law to give the state agency Flagler’s response to the rule proposal. The speed zones, Netts said, will have a “significant impact” in the county’s economy. The proposal is still “not in the best interest of Flagler County,” he said, criticizing Fish and Wildlife for not hearing Gov. Rick Scott’s directive to make the state more “user-friendly, and to reduce unemployment. Had the manatee-death survey data included recent years, the fatality “spike” would have diminished significantly, making speed zones unnecessary, Netts said.
Laureen Kornel, also a member of the rule-review committee, was one of just four people, out of 16 who addressed Fish and Wildlife’s representatives, who supported the proposed rule—and said it should have been broader, rather than watered down. The rule-review committee, she said,” was polarized, it wasn’t balanced,” with representation weighted “heavily to one side in the interest of boaters.”
The speed zones Fish and Wildlife is proposing, at a combined 2.7 miles out of 18.6 miles of waterway, are far more modest than the commission had originally proposed. Still, county opponents were not swayed. Most agreed to one speed zone—around the Hammock Dunes bridge, where Palm Coast canals’ boating traffic dumps into the waterway. But opposition was united against the other two speed zones.
Wednesday’s hearing, led by Fish and Wildlife Section leader Kip Frohlich and held at the Government Services Building’s main chambers in Bunnell, is the next-to-last opportunity for the public to address the proposed rule in an open forum. The Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to meet in late April or in early May, very likely to approve the rule for new speed zones.
It all started in 2007 when the commissioners approved a manatee protection plan. Coastal Flagler and St. Johns were identified in the plan as areas the commission should review for speed zones, because manatee deaths at the time were increasing, and there were—and still aren’t—speed zones in place along the Intracoastal. About 64 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway were analyzed. Zones were not warranted in St. Johns, the commission found, but were warranted in Flagler. In March 2010, a rule-review committee was established locally to review the state’s proposal and make its counter-proposal, which essentially added up to almost no speed zones. It favored more education instead.
When the state originally proposed its new rules, it projected 6.7 miles of speed zones out of Flagler County’s 18.6 miles of waterway. After much wrangling between the state and the county committee, that was negotiated down to 2.7 miles.
One of them is in the C-section of Palm Coast’s canals (0.6 miles), just south of Hammock Dunes bridge. Another zone is Lehigh Canal, near Sea Ray Boats, and the Intracoastal itself from State Road 100 to Beverly Beach. The southern portion of the zone would be from shore to shore. The northern portion would have a speed zone apply only to half the width of the Intracoastal.
The third speed zones extends for just under 1 mile at the southern end of the county’s waterway, to the Volusia County line. There is a year-round speed zone in effect on a portion of the waterway there. That portion would no longer be a year-round zone. The speed zone would apply only to the four warm months of the year, from May 1 to Sept. 7. That stretch of time, too, was severely narrowed. It was originally to extend from April 1 to October 31. Opposition from Flagler closed the window.
[More details to come.]