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Flagler Whacks Proposed Speed Zones on Intracoastal as Manatee Advocates Protest

| May 17, 2011

Sunset or sunrise on speed zones on the Intracoastal: take your pick. (© FlaglerLive)

Boater enthusiasts and manatee advocates went at it again Tuesday afternoon before the Flagler County Commission in the latest round of wrangling over new speed zones the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is proposing for less than a third of the 18.5 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The commission says the zones are necessary to protect manatees, an endangered species. Local boaters and marine industries and a near-unanimity of politicians say 10 manatee deaths over 10 years don’t warrant the extent of speed zones the commission is recommending, particularly as manatee populations have recovered.

“I paid $800,000 to buy a house here,” Jim Booth, a resident of Palm Coast’s C Section, told commissioners before speaking resentfully of having to crawl by low speed limits with his boat. “It’s just really pissing me off. I think 10 manatees in 10 years—I know one manatee is bad, but 10 in 10 years is a little bit ridiculous to be imposing this kind of stuff.”

Not ridiculous for Jane Culpepper, a Palm Coast resident in whose honor earlier this month the commission declared Jane Culpepper Day. The commission was recognizing Culpepper’s distinguished service as a volunteer and environmental advocate. If they were hoping to buy more compliance, they failed: “We’ve got to educate a lot of people. Not just the tourists, but a lot of these self-serving, self-interested people that live here and don’t care about anything except themselves. So we can get them to be a little more humane, a little more understanding,” Culpepper said. She paused briefly. A love-bug was crawling about her. Then she resumed: “These are amazing animals, and I do not understand why we don’t promote them more to bring tourists in that are the non exploitive, the non consumptive people. I don’t hear anybody concerned about that. Now frankly I wouldn’t go anywhere to see a lot of fast boats. But I would go a lot of places to see manatees, like the Blue Springs.”

Of the 11 people who addressed the commission in a public hearing about the proposed rules, four were clearly in favor of expansive speed regulations. Two were relatively non-committal, proposing compromise or complaining that the fish and wildlife commission’s own hearing on the matter, in June, was taking place in St. Johns County instead of in Flagler. The five remaining speakers were opposed to speed zones and the zones’ duration months (the zones are lifted in winter), although there were compromising voices—even Booth’s: “I don’t have too big a problem with split channels,” the $800,000 home-owner said, referring to a compromise scheme whereby the waterway is split, with a speed zone to one side and a normally navigable zone to the other. “Don’t have too big a problem with 25 miles an hour, and the bridges I do see that people do go through the bridges too fast and seeing them a little slower wouldn’t be too bad, so I would agree with that.”

As it turned out, Booth’s approach hewed to the commission’s, once the commission got around to voting on its own recommendations to the wildlife commission. Those recommendations were what it characterized as a compromise, but would be more accurately referred to as a compromise with a compromise.

By law, the wildlife commission had to let a local review committee, made up of representatives from the region affected by the proposed rules, come up with its own recommendations to the proposed rules. That so-called “Local Rule Review Committee” was established last spring and finished its work in summer. It essentially rejected most of what the wildlife commission proposed, acceding only to three miles of speed zones and an abbreviated, three-month manatee zone period. The committee, at any rate, had been stacked against serious rule-making. The commission countered with a compromise—or revisions—of its own, extending the speed zones to 5.6 miles in three places along the Intracoastal. That’s the proposal the commission took on on Tuesday, again whittling down what the commission was proposing to less than two miles and extending a split-channel zone, though both sides agreed to a manatee season of just over four months.

Commissioners were not hopeful their proposal would have “legs,” as Commissioner Barbara Revels put it: in the end, it’s the commission’s decision to impose what it will. But an exchange between County Commission Chairman Alan Peterson and the wildlife commission’s Kipp Frohlich was revealing.

“There doesn’t appear to be a problem in Flagler and St. Johns County, relative to the others,” Peterson said of manatee deaths. “Yes, we don’t have perhaps the regulations that the others do, but that doesn’t appear to be a problem either. Why now does fish and wildlife want to impose—I mean, I can clearly see if there was a problem, or there was a trend that was increasing relative to everybody else. But it just doesn’t seem to be a problem. Why now?”

Frohlich summarized the history: in 2007, at the height of the building boom in Flagler, several marinas and boat owners were having their boat slip permits ruined down by the Army Corps of Engineers because the county had no manatee management plan. That sort of development “ground to a halt,” Frohlich said (although, in fact, all development was grinding to a halt by then.) To kick things back up, the commission was willing to work with developers as long as manatee rules in compliance with the Endangered Species Act were developed. In other words, Frohlich was contending that the rules had their origins motivated by development. At that point, fish and wildlife’s planes went airborne to count manatees.

“The areas that the data showed that the risk would be the highest were the ones that we came back to the county with, and started that process,” Frohlich said. “And I would agree with you commissioner, I want to make sure, I’m a biologist, you’re absolutely right in the sense that manatee population has been growing. It’s one of our success stories in Florida. I don’t think there’s a manatee biologist anywhere that will argue with that, but they are still a federally listed endangered species, and our statutory requirements are still to, where we see risk areas, we try to reduce those risks, because nobody wants to collide with a manatee.”

It’s as close as Frohlich came to conceding that not only is the original motive for the rules—excessive development—no longer an issue, but that the Endangered Species Act is being enforced because it has to be—not because manatees are, in fact, endangered.

“Do you also look at the overall economic impact you’re having on a community by enforcing these regulations?” Commissioner Milissa Holland asked. “Do you weigh  that during your decisions and recommendations?”

“Yes,” Frohlich said. “We’re now required to do a statement of estimated regulatory costs that will evaluate the potential economic impact of whatever proposed rule they’re looking at.”

While those points made it easier for the opponents of speed zones to argue their position, they did not diminish the points the wildlife commission and manatee advocates maintained: mortality isn’t the only measure of danger to manatees, nor is the fact that they may be endangered. There are inherent values in slowing speeding boats down regardless, they said. A canoer, for example, described the Intracoastal as a danger zone.

And Katie Tripp, the Save the Manatee Club’s director of science and conservation, took on the notion—a repeated theme since last spring—that speed zones would hurt economic development and tourism. “I’m going to take my work hat off for a second,” Tripp said. “I recently moved. I saw your Visit Flagler website, ‘Come visit the quiet side of Florida, come paddle with the manatees, nature is alive here in Flagler.’ Fortunately, I also knew what else was going on. I didn’t move to Flagler. I moved to a boating community that supports speed zones, that honors speed zones, and I don’t recreate here anymore. I don’t bring my bike and cycle from Flagler Beach up to Marineland. I don’t sit at the Golden Lion and have a cocktail after I’ve cycled 30 miles. I’ve taken my life elsewhere. Environmental communities, the green community your strategic plan said you wanted to be, supports manatees, supports zones.”

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15 Responses for “Flagler Whacks Proposed Speed Zones on Intracoastal as Manatee Advocates Protest”

  1. real people says:

    for the past 18 years of boating in Flagler and St John’s I haven’t encountered a manatee except in Palm Coast canals, I’ve been very careful in the canals or at the edges of the intracoastal waterway after navigating Volusia county waterways and witnessing Volusia’s signs warning about manatees at the edges . the problem is the snowbirds flying with their large boats having no courtesy to the small vessels leaving 6 feet wake like that vessel whom drowned an elderly couple and capsized their small boat a few years ago.

  2. Hopeful says:

    Our family are boaters and fishermen. We love to go to the new waterfront park and have a peaceful afternoon of watching the manatees and dolphins frolic in the canal. We are terrified when watching these beautiful animals, that they will be hit when a large boat comes flying by. Also there has been no regard for safety of smaller boats, kayaks or canoes when these large boats speed past and their wake almost tips them over. Speed if you want in wide open areas but not in the narrow canals etc. Our family is Hopeful that our natural beauty of wildlife can be preserved with a slow down speed zone. Stop rushing around and enjoy nature!

  3. Capt C says:

    This idiot thinks he owns the waterway because he payed $800,000.00 for a house in the C-section. Give me a break. I’ve been running these waters for 30 years and all I see are ignorant jerks speeding up and down the intra-coastal waterway, not careing about their wakes and the damage it does to the shorelines. And I have seen manatees killed in Flagler County from the propellers of these selfess, arrogant idiots. Stupid, Stupid Humans !!!!

  4. PC boater says:

    If the powers that be took a different approach , the state might listen . Most Manatees are hit by larger power boats drawing deeper draft . If they restrict boats over 25 , 28 , 30 ( a study could determine the length ) to idle speed thru the area ( they can always go outside to the ocean if they don’t want to idle ) the small boat inshore communities ( which encompass most of Flagler County ) wouldn’t be affected . Furthermore , Flagler would be the first county to consider this type of resolution .

  5. Bob says:

    You don’t ride your bike on an Interstate highway and you don’t canoe on the Intracoastal waterway.

    Flagler County has no inlet, three hours to St. Aug. and four hours to Ponce Inlet…..this will only make those trip even longer.

    Most snow bird will go outside from St Aug. to Ponce and skip Flagler County and take their money elsewhere.

  6. palmcoaster says:

    I totally agree with real people. Manatees concentrate in our saltwater canals avoiding the fast vessels in the intracoastal. We have like 10 of them at the end of the Country Club Canal every season including the past few days..They come to mate and to feed with their babies along. Unfortunately I see boaters often coming too fast in our canals for the manatees and that for sure has to stop.
    I know is a inconvenience our no wake speed but that is why our homes are not as expensive as in other areas of the intracoastal where the lack of manatees make for more relax rules.
    The intracoastal is always being eroded by high speed huge vessels that while I see them going by I wonder how come aren’t they instead traveling of shore where they belong. Every adult manatee that I see in our canals always have propeller marks in their backs,,,some are sadly quiet deep. A baby manatee was run over and killed by an unknown boat propeller deep inside our Country Club Canal few years ago, when I read about it. One too many deaths enough for regulations to be approved and enforced.
    Lets materialize the Flagler County Quiet Side of Florida and vote for the slow down of the irresponsible.
    Also where is the volunteer coast guard patrolling our canals….with all this speeders going by in their wave runners, middle and large size watercraft?

  7. Taxed says:

    How about a little common sense and courtesy? Lets just regulate everything, I think there should be toilet paper regulation for all the tree huggers and cat lovers. Who needs more than three squares. If you’re in the main channel in a kayak you’re an idiot anyway and you’re vote doesn’t count. Manatees are few and far in these parts, thats why we don’t have speed zones already. Lets just live and let live.
    If you don’t like that pack up your cats up and move to Borneo!

  8. lawabidingcitizen says:

    The problem is the disconnect between the the crowd that wants to bring people to “events” so they can spend their money on chachkes and beer and the crowd that wants to turn Flagler into a place where people want to come to spend time hiking, canoeing and taking pictures of the wildlife, people are turned off by the out-of-control development, the strip malls, the traffic …

    If elected officials had any smarts, Flagler county and all its parts could have cooperated to limit development and sell Flagler as a place where people could get away to a place where time forgot.

    Unfortunately, it’s too late for that now. The manatees better watch each others’ backs, parvenus and philistines are firmly in control at every level.

  9. SAW says:

    Most should realize by now that better protection for our manatees will have little to no chance when the Mayor of PC, a city of thousands, is allowed to even have a seat at any speed zone study table.

    He stated in the begining that he was unbiased when he took that seat as a boating advocate, but his recent comments Sunday in the local Daytona rag, clearly showed which side he was on, screw the manatees full speed ahead, was his basic theme.

    Obviously any thinking individual must realize that when a person like this, plays any part it in such an outcome, his presence there undoubtably influences and leads others on that board, some of whom are weak kneed, non-thinkers, or both, how sad.

    Certainly any politician like our honorable mayor who relies on re-election support to keep his seat , should never have been included on that board in the first place.

    Does anyone think that the local major boat builder who tests very large yachts in the zone, possibly had some influence here, you think maybe, sounds that way ? How about the “rumor” that the mayor also operates a boat tow service in the proposed zone also, any truth to that one ?

  10. real people says:

    to SAW says I totally agree with you about our Mayor. Yes he operates the tow boat I witnessed him many times.The last time he was rushing north to bale out a sail boat stuck on a sand bar by Matanza’s inlet jct he’s so arrogant operator or captain he hogs the red buoys instead of the green ignoring all the navigation rules, although the funny thing that came to mind is the last time I saw him with that yellow emergency revolving light on the top of the tow boat should be on his head with big yellow sign on his back saying wide load.

  11. palmcoaster says:

    And Yes, is no rumor Palm Coast mayor runs the local franchise of the BoatUS tow owned by a local Palm Coast couple along with three other franchises since last year after Cpt Olsen sold it. Maybe Netts all these years and still is a partner…?
    So for that very reason he should have not been part of that committee. Conflict of interest!

  12. jim booth says:

    Most of the replies on this issue are misinformed. My comment on my 800k house was admittedly not clear at the meeting.. but the point was palm coast homes values, and particularly the ones on the saltwater canals are indirectly tied to the close proximity to the ocean inlets. How much, is arguable, but it is a fact. To incur more time to get to an inlet, devalues palm coast homes. Further, my intent was to address economic impact, something the FWC is supposed to consider. Currently, there are no proposed speed zones between most of the canals to the north inlets. But there was or is a separate proposal to make everything from Bings to Mantanzas an Outstanding Florida Water designation. It is unclear what effect that will have on getting to the inlet.

    A few more facts, I was born in florida 56 years ago, thank you Capt C! Pardon me if I don’t stoop to your level of name calling. There were no manatee here. The manatee herd is growing in numbers. Flagler killed 10 in 10 years, one of the lowest of any county in florida. Volusia killed almost 60 if I have my numbers correct. Almost 100 died of natural causes in the last 10 years in Flagler canals (birthing i believe)

    More facts: There is NO ONE on the LRCC that I am aware of that doesn’t have a dog in the hunt on either side of the issue. I think the mayor has been fair, and in fact, has agreed to a slow speed zone right on top of his tow boat base. My guess is he will make more money with speed zones, since the tow bill is paid by the hour BOTH TO AND FROM the recovery of a broken down boat. It will certainly take longer to get to the broken down boat with a 6 mph speed zone. He may drive a boat poorly, I don’t know about that! But from time to time, everyone makes a mistake or is not courteous driving, boats, cars, motorcycles, etc. even kayaks and canoes!

    Anyone that knows me, knows I care about manatee. I find their presence breath taking. Many boaters including myself, go on the VHF radio to report sitings of manatee so other boaters will slow down (those with radios anyway). So lets get informed on this issue. This article does not reflect all there is to know on the topic. Its intent was to inflame, and it has worked pretty well it seems.

  13. Donna Jones says:

    We started going up to Flagler Beach for 3 day trips in March.
    First to see the Whales, which we did not, second, to take our dog out on the Beach, the only dog allowed Beach near us on the East Coast.
    We have been to the Clearwater/Ft. Desoto Park area several times for dog events and they are all quite dog friendly over there.
    At first, we liked Flagler Beach because it was pretty quiet and felt like a small town.
    On the first trip we ate at several places where we could bring our dog to sit by us outside and eat.
    But by our second trip up the next month, this was not allowed, a new code/health rule was being forced on them they said.
    A Petition to sign was offered and we signed it.
    Now we are wondering what else will change on the next trip up.
    The rooms in this area are all about $100 a night, not cheap, for the mostly run down places available.
    The eating places are also fairly expensive for what is offered as well.
    We liked the area, but don’t like what we see may be coming.
    It seems that without much competition, prices will stay high here.
    And visitor/tourist value will remain low.
    Considering what little there is to do here for us, except for allowing Dogs on the Beach, why should we bother going back again?
    This newest thing with the Manatees, in my opinion is just another way of saying, we don’t really care all that much about animals or tourists here in Flagler, just give us your money.
    And if this proves to be true on our next trip, it will be our last.
    There are just too many other places to take our dog and our money here in Florida, where we can all feel welcome.

  14. Bob Smith says:

    I have boated in Florida for over 40 yrs. The slow zones have ruined the St. Johns and other boating areas. Let’s get some facts straight: Manatees are NOT native to Florida, The will avoid/hear a high speed propeller much better that an idling engine. As for erosion, a 40 ft cruiser at minimum speed puts out a bigger wake that my 22 foot on a plane………Let the boats run a planing speed! 25mph is a very fair compromise!

  15. Paul Burkhart says:

    Having speed controls I believe should be enforced, when these large boats come up the the river there is a huge wake given off. These boaters have no respect for small boaters that are fishing with their family. The wake that is given off just about flips the people out of their boats. Just watching these boaters tells me that if your in their way, watch out there is no feeling for your safety. There is one thing for sure traveling at full speed in the river to avoid any Manatee is not going to happen. I have a boat and I know that going slow isn’t easy and it seems to take forever to travel the distance, but what’s the hurry. People we are in this together.

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