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.
- Read the Draft Report
- How a Boating Guru Turned Manatee Advocate
- 10 Named to Flagler’s Manatee Rules Panel
- Hanging With Manatees
- Flagler Has 30 Days Left to respond to 5 Proposed Manatee-Protection Speed Zones
- Florida Law on How New Manatee Protection Rules May Be Adopted
“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.