Florida's Anchoring Debate Heats Up

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 02:14AM - Comments: (5)

The mooring field pilot program drove dozens of boats from the long established anchorage and mooring field at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron.

The state of Florida is at it again. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission held a couple of poorly advertised “workshops” earlier this month to discuss the future of anchoring in the state. The public hearings made it clear that the state is once again trying to tighten anchoring restrictions in coastal areas, particularly in urban areas along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Currently, six municipalities in Florida are participating in a pilot mooring field program to help guide future legislation. Although each of the pilot programs vary slightly, all of the local ordinances restrict anchoring in local waters and instead offer moorings for a fee.

Funded by by state and local taxpayers, the pilot programs were set to expire in 2014 but have been extended to 2017. By then, it is expected that the legislature will try to come up with a unified statewide plan. Cruising groups like the Seven Seas Cruising Association are hoping that the state carries out a thoughtful, data-based assessment, and whatever solutions it proposes (if any) are applied statewide, and do not restrict cruising sailors' rights to navigate.

Several municipalities, however, are looking to accelerate the assessment process and regain control of anchoring in their local harbors. A bill that failed in the state legislature earlier this year had proposed allowing 64 other communities to enact their own anchoring restrictions. The bill drew sharp criticism from cruisers, who feared a return to the pre-2009 days when a confusing mish-mash of local ordinances regulated anchoring in the state.

Based on Jim Flannery’s news story on the recent workshops, it appears that property owners in Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach are behind the latest push. In an “anchoring concepts for consideration” handout distributed at the hearing, one provision suggested restricting anchoring from “within 300 feet of a residential property.” Critics say the decision would effectively eliminate all anchorages in Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

Very few of the stated goals of the pilot mooring program are being met in Sarasota, according to the final recommendations submitted to the Florida Legislature. The moorings in Marathon in the Florida Keys, earned much higher marks.

Overall, the pilot mooring programs, including one in Practical Sailor’s home city of Sarasota, are yielding mixed results. In Sarasota, the first set of moorings failed to meet the required load test, delaying the project's implementation. At one of the recent workshops, a boater reported her mooring in St. Augustine failed in calm weather, causing $30,000 damage to her boat. In other areas, particularly Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, boaters seem general satisfied with the pilot program.

By looking at the post-implementation survey data (see table), the only goal that every pilot program clearly achieved was a reduction in the number of derelict boats. As one might expect, all conspicuously failed to improve access to local waters—a problem that is being compounded as new developments gobble up marinas and working boatyards. In some cases, creating the mooring fields exacerbated several of the problems they were intended to solve.

In Sarasota, the local boats that were shooed out of the anchorage to make room for moorings simply moved slightly south, just outside the mooring field boundary to a more sensitive seagrass area. Though many predicted this would happen, the local project director expressed surprise in his summary report to the Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC).

“Unfortunately the remaining vessels that moved have more or less moved south of the City mooring field establishing a new, unregulated anchoring area. This area is healthy with sea grass beds based on aerial review, shallow during low tides and  near two inland channels. Vessels have been observed listing at low tide in this  new area. Vessels owners have additionally established a new dingy (sic) area near a public right of way that leads to a sidewalk.”   

Anyone who takes the time to skim over Appendices D, E, and F (starting on page 117) of the FWC Final Recommendations to the legislature will note how several of the municipalities (Sarasota and St. Petersburg being the chief offenders) seem to present a far rosier picture of the pilot progams than the data actually supports. As far as I can tell, the real winner in Sarasota's local mooring field scheme is Jack Graham Inc. The commercial enterprise manages the mooring field and leases the prime waterfront real estate from the city for the rate of three percent of its earnings—an arrangement critics have for years blasted as a sweetheart deal. In a recent settlement with the county, the company was excused from paying more than $1 million in local taxes.

In my view, Florida is continuing down the same path it has followed for years, wasting time and resources trying to solve a "problem" that is largely one of perception. The most frequently cited complaints, such as abandoned or derelict boats, can be more cheaply addressed by enforcing existing laws. Judging from the hasty way in which the latest round of workshops were carried out, it is obvious that boaters who care about protecting their rights to navigate and anchor freely in the state will have to remain vigilant.

Some things never change.

Comments (5)

What he said...

Posted by: 4knots | September 17, 2014 9:45 PM    Report this comment

I wonder how he really feels. Nothing like calling the problem the way it really is. How about the pollution caused by the trash and garbage from the city streets that washes into the bay every time it rains, I wonder who put it there?

Posted by: William J C | September 17, 2014 12:35 PM    Report this comment

I watch with disdain the actions/inactions of Florida with anchoring and mooring. As someone that plans in the near future to go South, Florida may well be a destination avoided. I'll take my $$ elsewhere!

Posted by: David B | September 17, 2014 11:48 AM    Report this comment

I have sailed/visited by boat/or extended stayed at all of the locations in the "study." Yes, I have been harassed by local authorities. I have also been told, in Key West, to "disconnect my vessel from the cities equipment before I cause damage." Seems they did not have heavy enough hardware in place for my vessel, my right to navigate impeded. This shows how the governments one size fits none really works. I carry ground tackle more than adequate for my sized vessel. I was told by the city to go outside the mooring area and anchor! The limit to the mooring system in Key West is based on feet, Length over all (LOA). After reviewing my registration I was told, "your boat is too long, get off our equipment." The mooring seemed new and very heavy, my boat less than 10% over the maximum allowed length. Does a fully loaded trawler pull the same on a mooring system as a racing sailboat? I think not...

Posted by: Tyler W | September 17, 2014 10:05 AM    Report this comment

The Dinner Key Mooring Field in Miami was built in clear violation of deed restrictions to the submerged bottom lands. I have a stack of unfulfilled public records requests posted online. At one point, I was able to obtain mooring field plans that even the Assistant City Manager knew nothing about. Florida DEP dismissed stakeholder challenges to the mooring field stating that the "economic grounds" for their complaint did not give them sufficient standing as stakeholders to file a petition. Had they actually READ the petition, they would have seen that of the 17 objections raised, none of them were economically based. I moved off the water a long time ago after a fellow boater was arrested on-board and held for five years before being charged with a crime.

Anchoring is part of our FEDERALLY-protected rights to navigate. Attempts to regulate it are generally made without involvement from the boating community that is always the first to advocate for safer conditions, cleaner water, and responsible management.

Biscayne Bay is still listed as an environmental dead zone. The City of Miami collects rent from moored boaters who offered to pay all along. Meanwhile, the real problem of street runoff continues to destroy the water quality.

As long as government can find ways to disengage from stakeholders, bypass due process, and circumvent public input, our tax dollars will continue to fund non-solutions to non-problems. If you want safer, cleaner, better managed waterways, ask a boater who cares about his back yard.

Waterfront property owners who have nothing better to do than complain about laundry on lifelines are free to put up walls and curtains or move inland. Boaters aren't wasting their time (or their representatives') complaining about ostentatious displays of opulence and architectural poor taste. Nobody is rich or privileged enough to decide who they get to share this world with.

If anyone was going to come up with a list of compelling reasons why anchoring is an actual problem, it would have happened by now and the discussion would revolve around the major known objections. Instead, we hear round after round of vacuous, quasi-scientific, accusations that assume anyone who lives on the hook must be poor and his vessel, derelict. We see pictures of garbage drifted onto the beach and a few shanty boats--vapid propaganda designed to portray entire communities of people as homeless vagrants.

I'll get back on the water one day--and I'll have to pay rent to park my boat in a less-secure facility on a mooring I don't trust. The water will be no cleaner. The regulation will be no more enlightened (if it exists at all). I'll risk having my dinghy stolen ashore at the unguarded dock, or tie my schedule to the City's hourly water taxi. All this after offering to pay for facilities for years. Meanwhile, if I come to the marina, nobody knows how to catch and cleat my lines.

Getting rid of anchored boaters is no different than getting rid of jews, blacks, or gays or "those people." Lumping any group of people into the "problem-solving" category is a classic recipe for bad legislation. The problems are ignorance and apathy--always have been; always will be.

Posted by: David B | September 17, 2014 9:56 AM    Report this comment

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