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Pasco and Tarpon Springs officials seek slower boat speeds at Anclote

HOLIDAY — If you ask Richard Jaryna what he thinks about slowing down boat speeds at the mouth of the Anclote River, he points to a small island you can see from the popular public boat docks at Anclote River Park.

There's a white cross on the island that memorializes the day in August 2010 when Michael Billiris, a well-known captain and former Tarpon Springs commissioner, died after a high-speed collision with another boat.

"It's an accident waiting to happen," said Jaryna, 66, who visits the park daily and helped organize a petition drive calling for the speed restrictions. "I'm surprised somebody wasn't killed before that."

After Billiris' death and requests from many park visitors, officials from Pasco County and Tarpon Springs are finishing work on an application to cut down speeds at a high-traffic intersection where boats enter and exit the river from several directions.

The proposal would create a limited-wake zone stretching from an existing idle-speed zone in the city, past the beach at Anclote park and ending just after the island with the white cross. In addition, there would be a new no-wake zone within 300 feet of the boat docks.

Tarpon Springs officials have already approved their portion of the effort. Pasco commissioners gave initial approval to the county's segment at a meeting Tuesday. The ordinance is scheduled for a second meeting April 24 in New Port Richey.

After that, it will be sent to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which makes the final determination on the speed zone. That could take a few months.

"You know what, it can't get here fast enough," said County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, an avid boater whose district includes the area. "Some of these people think the minute they hit the water it's full speed ahead."

Since 2005, there have been seven accidents along the 1-mile stretch included in the proposal. During Memorial Day weekend last year, Tarpon officials tracked almost 600 boats, and more than half were speeding. The biggest spike in speeding boats came at noon Sunday.

"That's a highly congested area and probably more problematic for boaters," said Tarpon Springs police Capt. Jeffrey Young. "With the beach right there too, there's a whole other set of concerns."

Young said commercial fisherman approved of the limited-wake zone, which would restrict boats to about 5 miles per hour. The restrictions, he said, run from shoreline to shoreline. That keeps boaters from speeding by on shallow waters in between the islands on the river.

Chuck Terbush, 69, brings his boat to Anclote River Park about once a week from his home in Lutz. On Thursday, he loaned his boat to his brother so he could do some fishing and reading on the shore. He welcomes to the limited-wake zones.

"It can get pretty rough out there," he said. "Coming in with that little 14-foot johnboat I've got, it's a bear sometimes."

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Pasco and Tarpon Springs officials seek slower boat speeds at Anclote 03/23/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 23, 2012 9:07pm]
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