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Flagler Manatee Committee Report Concludes: Against Speed Zones. Just “Education.”

| July 15, 2010

No speed zones need apply. (© FlaglerLive)

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission knew from the outset that getting Flagler County officialdom to give more than lip-service to manatee protection in the Intracoastal Waterway would be difficult. The commission wasn’t surprised.

A draft report by the committee appointed by the Flagler County Commission is recommending against adopting most of the commission’s proposed manatee-protecting speed zones in areas along the Intracoastal. The committee instead is proposing to shorten or reject the zones the commission is recommending, and emphasize education more than regulation. The final report is due next week.

“Regulations that are onerous, difficult to understand and contrary to reason are frequently ignored by the public,” the report concludes. “The original proposal by FWC is all of these.” The report was written by Marineland Mayor Jim Netherton, a member of the local rules-review committee.

The county commission appointed the committee in May. The so-called “Local Rules Review Committee” is required by law the moment the Fish and Wildlife Commission proposes new rules. Fish & Wildlife is recommending speed zones on a third of the 20 miles of Flagler’s portion of the Intracoastal Waterway, in five different spots.

Local government agencies must be given the opportunity to weigh in. The committee is designed to represent boating and manatee-protection interests. The appointment process stacked the committee in favor of boating interests, with Ed Caroe, who initially applied to be on the committee as a boating representative, listed as a manatee advocate, and Jon Netts, a boating enthusiast who’d spoken against speed zones before joining the committee, named its chairman.

“Public comment from boaters emphasized that the currently suggested speed zones are driven by a legislative mandate and not by a real-world problem,” the draft report states. “Most boaters feel that an average of one manatee fatality per year is a regrettable but unavoidable consequence of manatees and boats using the same waterway.”

Fish & Wildlife records 75 manatee carcasses recovered in coastal Flagler County since 1974, with 59 (or 79 percent) recovered during the warmer months and 16 (or 21 percent) recovered during the colder months. “Perinatal” deaths, or deaths in manatees smaller than 60 inches long, had the most deaths (36). Deaths due to boating collisions had the next highest number of deaths, with 14, nine of them since 2002.

“Eliminating manatee injuries,” the report continues, “would require eliminating all manatees or all boats, neither of which is possible. Slowing boating speed over a wide area is extremely unpopular; each mile that a boat travels at 5 mph instead of 25 mph adds 10 minutes to the journey. This may be tolerable for 10 or even 20 minutes, but not for 60 minutes or more. One way around this dilemma is to target smaller speed zones around important areas and not institute broad zones hoping to include problem areas in the larger solution. Law enforcement will not be adequate to slow down all boaters who don’t believe that the manatee protection laws are fair and equitable and don’t want to observe them.”

At most, the committee is recommending about less than half the nearly 2-mile speed zone Fish and Wildlife is recommending in waters out of Gamble Rogers State Park and in a short zone south of the Dunes Hammock Bridge, that whatever speed zones are adopted apply only between May and July, an obvious shortening of the warm-weather season when manatees swim around the Intracoastal. The state agency, as do weather stats, define warm weather in Flagler as extending between April and October.

As an alternative, the committee is recommending that “educational signage” be put up at six access points to the Intracoastal (in Gamble Rogers Park, Betty Steflik Park in Flagler Beach, Herschel King Park, Bings Landing and Hammock Beach Marina, and the Palm Coast Marina. The signs, along with establishing a “speakers’ bureau” (an idea favored by Netts), would work more effectively than “regulations that will prove to be extremely difficult to enforce,” the report states.

The report is only advisory. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is not bound by its findings, and may, returning the favor, pay it little more than lip service once it adopts its own rules.

The local committee is meeting next on Monday, July 19, at 4 p.m. at the Emergency Operations Center behind the county’s Government Services Center in Bunnell. The meeting is open to the public. Inquiries may be directed to Tim Telfer, the county’s liaison on the committee, (386) 313-4066.

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2 Responses for “Flagler Manatee Committee Report Concludes: Against Speed Zones. Just “Education.””

  1. art woosley ( boater ) says:

    Why would anyone expect the outcome to be any different, as previously stated, it was suspected of being a stacked deck from the very outset ?

    Very sad to say the least ,but BIG MONEY lobbies with powerful tenticles, will almost always TRUMP what is in the best public interest, which in this case includes OUR environment, and all the many unique, and special creatures which inhabit it..

    Once again this has proven true, as this committees ability to reason, and to use common sense, and fairness were relegated to the back burner, in favor of a few special interests. ( granted, although much smaller than the GULF fiasco, appears a similar thought process was involved )

    Also clever, is the way in which they choose to try to pass off helping these gentle giants, through some new type public education program, they can’t be serious, ( that is like telling a kid who likes to drag racing, to read a road safety manual ) ?

    One might even conclude from the decision making process used in this particular case, that it is some of them the committee members, who are in dire need of some environmental education.

    However, what is by far the most disturbing in all of this ,is the fact that TWO of our local mayors were on this committee, one might think at least the one from P.C.( who I believe, was the Chair an influential seat ), would have had more important duties on his plate, but I guess not ?

    In our community, were the vast majority of residents would certainly favor the protection of these peaceful creatures, over these large fast moving yachts. We can know only hope that our county commission and the FWC / DEP etc. will do the correct thing, and truly make the decision to help save our manatee’s from injury and death.

    We are all only here for a short time, and as the current stewards,we have an important obligation not recognized by the majority of this committee, that is, to protect these animals for future generations to enjoy as we do.

    You can be certain, that the number of larger and faster boats will increase on this waterway, so changes for the better have to be made now, as once in place the state will not revisit this for years to come.

    Let us all hope that common sense will ultimately prevail, as that is by far much more important than worrying about the fact that a vessel might take an extra thirty more minutes to pass through our county, after all, if we as residents do not protect our area who will ?

    • glenn beyenberg says:

      manatee zone,,, i bought a house in palm coast because of boating…so now more rules come into play,,, i am not for this…

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