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St. Petersburg would curb derelict boats, free anchoring off shore

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's new mooring field, where boaters tie their vessels to anchored buoys in the Vinoy yacht basin, was supposed to help solve complaints over the scarcity of public docking space.

But some downtown residents, boaters and members of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club are complaining about an unintended consequence of the extra water parking: To avoid mooring field fees, boaters are now anchoring elsewhere — and in the way.

Boats anchoring in the south basin are creating obstacles and training hazards for the yacht club's sailing training program, said Emil Pavone, president of the Downtown Residents Civic Association.

The yacht club operates a sailing training program with the city that last year had 300 youths and 250 adults. The novice boaters are having trouble navigating around boats that are now anchored for free in the south basin.

"They rarely (anchored there) in the past," Pavone said. "But they do so now because they're too cheap to pay the very modest fee for mooring in the city's new Vinoy basin mooring field, which is immediately alongside it."

The city opened the mooring field this year. It has 13 spots, and boaters pay the city $13 to $17 depending on boat size. City officials want to expand it to 26 mooring spots.

Under law, free anchoring such as boats are doing in the south basin is allowed as long as there's no hazard.

But city officials and sailing club members worry about how those boats, in unregulated water, dispose of waste and how owners care for the vessels.

And the city is now looking at changing the free anchoring while also looking at ways to keep derelict boats from cluttering downtown waters.

A proposed ordinance would give police more power to stop hazardous boats from going under and restrict mooring of vessels to certain areas near city harbors.

"Anytime we can give our staff extra tools to do their jobs better, I think we should do it," City Council member Steve Kornell said.

The city has asked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to sign off on the restrictions in a draft ordinance. The state agency is taking comments until midnight March 18.

The proposal comes after the city joined a state pilot program giving more local regulation to marinas and mooring.

With state approval, the city could enact the limits later this year.

The proposed limits drew complaints from some boaters over fears it would inhibit local waterfront cruising by limiting where they could stop. In October, some said better enforcement of existing laws are needed.

The ordinance would ban anchoring within 200 feet of a public or private marina or boat ramp. Live-aboard or floating structures would be exempt, and exceptions would be made for special events or emergencies.

Boats would be limited to anchoring 72 hours in Bayboro Harbor. The city would ban anchoring in the Port of St. Petersburg or the central and southern yacht basin areas.

Boaters would receive a warning first. Then fines would run $150 to $500, and police would be able to impound hazardous vessels.

"We want to give them the tools they need to basically intercede before it becomes a problem," said Dave Metz, the city's downtown enterprise facilities director.

Now, ridding the city waterways of derelict boats takes months if not a year to accomplish, police officials told the City Council this month. In one case, police warned an owner that his troubled boat needed a working anchor light.

The owner added the anchor light. The boat has now sunk.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes

St. Petersburg would curb derelict boats, free anchoring off shore 03/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 10, 2012 3:31am]

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