One downside to St. Petersburg's waterfront setting is that sometimes its residents abandon boats in its canals and passes, turning them into environmental and navigational hazards.
Every year police boat patrols have to deal with 30 or 40 such derelict vessels, trying to track down the owners and remove the boats, said St. Petersburg police Officer Les Miller. They've got their eye on hundreds more that may turn into abandoned vessels.
Complicating matters is the fact that the state wildlife commission, not local government, is in charge of dealing with derelict boats, but that program hasn't been funded by the Legislature for the past few years, Miller told a City Council committee Thursday.
But now the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is selecting five local governments for a pilot program that would let them take charge of cracking down on the abandoned boat problem — and St. Petersburg is one of three that's already been approved.
That means the City Council can craft ordinances that put tough limits on where boats can be anchored or for how long, explained Katie Purcell of the state wildlife commission.
St. Petersburg was selected, along with Sarasota and Monroe County, because all three have a mooring field — a controlled area where boaters tie their vessels to a floating buoy, which is secured to the bottom of the waterway.
St. Petersburg's 26-slip mooring field will be located on 27 acres in the Vinoy Yacht Basin. It has all the necessary permits and is scheduled to open in October, Miller said.
State officials also considered an application from Gulfport, but rejected it because its proposed 100-slip mooring field hadn't received any of its state permits yet, according to the wildlife commission's files.
"The primary issue we are faced with is the number of vessels being stored throughout our waterways," Miller wrote in a memo to city council members last month. "Often these vessels do not fall into what could be considered a derelict vessel, however they can quickly become derelict to the point that makes it difficult to remove."
But except for live-aboards and floating structures, "we can not regulate the anchorage of vessels," Miller explained.
Now the city will be able to do just that — at least temporarily.
As part of the pilot program, St. Petersburg officials can require boaters to use the mooring field for long-term tie-ups or impose other requirements designed to cut down on derelict boats in the area. So far, however, no ordinances have been proposed for adoption.
The ordinances in the pilot areas will be in effect for five years, so state officials can see what works and what doesn't, Purcell said. Then those ordinances will become void, and state officials will use their data to make improvements to current state law, she said.
The catch: The pilot program doesn't include any extra money for removing any sunken or abandoned boats — which usually number about 1,500 statewide each year — so the expense of dealing with the potentially derelict vessels continues to be a problem.
"How much are torpedoes?" council member Wengay Newton asked Thursday, smiling.
The other two pilot program locations, both to be on the state's east coast, will be selected next month.
Times staff writer Terry Tomalin contributed to this story.