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State rejects proposed low-wake zone along Anclote River

State officials have rejected proposed boating speed restrictions on the Anclote River, saying Pasco County and Tarpon Springs did not offer enough evidence to support an extended limited-wake zone.

But the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission did give a small victory to safety advocates. Officials said they would approve a smaller no-wake zone at the crowded intersection where the river passes three boat ramps at the county's Anclote River Park before heading out to the Gulf of Mexico.

"That's the main intersection where the boats come together," said Pasco parks director Rick Buckman. "That's probably the most important piece of the whole picture."

The proposal has taken an emotional resonance after Michael Billiris, a well-known captain and former Tarpon Springs commissioner, died in August 2010 after a high-speed collision with another boat.

The portion approved by the FWC would require boats launching from the ramps and headed south along the river to remain at an idle speed until they pass the swimming area in the park. If boats are headed to the gulf, they could only resume normal speed after passing an island with a white cross memorializing Billiris' death.

City and county officials had wanted much more extensive restrictions. They proposed a limited-wake zone stretching south from the county park that would join with an existing idle-speed zone in Tarpon Springs.

"It's definitely a big disappointment," said city Commissioner Jeff Larsen. "We really wanted to make it safer out there."

Larsen wants to explore other options for speed restrictions. Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen was scheduled to update the City Commission on the topic Tuesday night.

In an Aug. 29 letter, FWC officials said the county and city only provided boat traffic counts near Anclote park, not along the full proposed wake zone. The proposal also only included two accidents tied to excessive speed and only provided figures for weekends and holidays during prime boating season.

The letter also cast doubt on the device used to track boats in the area. FWC officials said they found past evidence of the device counting the same boat two or three times.

Buckman said Pasco County commissioners must pass a revised no-wake ordinance near Anclote River Park and send that to state officials. If approved, the county must apply for a separate permit to erect the no-wake signs. The process could take months. He hopes the new restrictions are in place "before next summer when the boat traffic picks up again."

Buckman said the Tarpon Springs section of the proposal is still important.

He noted boaters heading north on the river can travel at full speed before immediately slowing to an idle speed at the park.

He said Pasco would continue to work with city officials on more extensive restrictions.

Times staff writer Stephanie Wang contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

State rejects proposed low-wake zone along Anclote River 09/04/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 8:33pm]
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