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Blind Pass boat speeds have two towns at odds

TREASURE ISLAND — Ten years ago, officials here thought they solved the problem of speeding boaters in the Blind Pass channel.

Now the issue is back and apparently still just as contentious.

Residents on both the Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach sides of the channel want weekend speed restrictions extended to cover the entire week.

The Treasure Island City Commission refused last week to consider changing the rule.

But Tuesday, the St. Pete Beach commission is scheduled to take a second and final vote on stricter boating rules they supported unanimously earlier this month.

St. Pete Beach residents described how personal watercraft, which are available for rent at Blind Pass, "like to do doughnuts," creating waves that wash up into docks and seawalls.

"There is a tremendous issue with speed in that channel. They kill baby dolphins," said one resident, who said boaters often "ride through on full throttle" from the bridge to the Gulf of Mexico.

Present rules in both St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island call for slow speed, minimum wake in the Blind Pass Channel south of the bridge just on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. During the week, boaters are allowed to speed.

St. Pete Beach's proposed ordinance would extend restrictions to every day.

"It would be better to have the same rule on both sides of the channel, but we may go ahead and push it through," says newly elected St. Pete Beach Commissioner Al Halpern.

Halpern and Treasure Island Commissioner Alan Bildz hoped Treasure Island would be willing to similarly change their rules.

But during a workshop session Tuesday, the commission bowed to strong opposition from Treasure Island boaters and what they said is a lack of "proof" that a safety issue exists.

"I have never been so livid," said Bildz, who asked the Treasure Island commission to consider strengthening the boating speed limit.

Bildz said "every time" he attends a Sunset Beach Civic Association meeting, residents ask when the commission will vote to ban speeding boaters.

"Are we going to wait for someone to die?" Bildz said. "The more I think about it, the madder I get. It infuriates me that the other three districts, and particularly Paradise Island, can overrule Sunset Beach. Whatever happened to home rule?"

Former Treasure Island Commissioner Richard Kraus reminded the commission that it "promised" not to make regulations more restrictive when it reached a compromise between Blind Pass residents and boaters in 1997.

"Blind Pass serves as main access and return from the gulf," Kraus said Tuesday. "This arrangement works. Why change it? Because St. Pete Beach asks for it? I don't think so."

Although boating accidents, particularly involving personal watercraft, triggered the original weekend crackdown on boating speeds, Treasure Island Sgt. Armand Boudreau said there have been "no reports" of any accidents in at least the last two years.

He said that if St. Pete Beach decides to change the rules for its side of the channel, it could "push boaters to our side of the pass." It also would create enforcement problems, since it would be difficult for marine patrols to prove which side of the channel's center line a boater is on when speeding.

Mayor Mary Maloof acknowledged that Sunset Beach residents want the stricter rules, but she refused to consider them now.

Before the two beach cities coordinated their boating regulations in Blind Pass in 1997, boaters frequently steered closer to the Treasure Island side of the pass to avoid being ticketed by St. Pete Beach marine patrols.

In the 1990s, Treasure Island debated the issue for more than five months before deciding to match St. Pete Beach's regulations.

"I just think the arrangement we have now is fair," Maloof said Tuesday. "Let's have people come in and put their case forward. We have no one here tonight, and I see no reason to move it forward now."

Blind Pass boat speeds have two towns at odds 05/24/08 [Last modified: Saturday, May 24, 2008 4:37am]
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