TREASURE ISLAND — Boats and swimmers don't mix, at least on Sunset Beach.
That was the unanimous opinion of the City Commission on Tuesday as it turned down a Police Department proposal to widen a boat anchoring zone near Caddy's on the Beach restaurant, and refused to consider allowing a similar zone near the Sunset Chateau condominium.
Instead, the commission plans to eliminate the boat anchoring area near Caddy's during its next regular meeting on July 7.
Tuesday's workshop consensus met with strong support from residents in the audience — except for one.
"You can encourage people to wear life jackets all you want, but what you are doing is putting people's lives in danger. Somebody is going to die in front of my condo, somebody's going to die in front of Caddy's," said Sunset Chateau resident Ron Barcena.
He was upset that the commission refused to allow audience comments on a proposal to create an anchoring zone at the condominium so that boaters could easily wade to shore and visit residents.
Despite a petition signed by 53 Sunset Chateau residents, the proposal failed to get any commission support.
During a discussion of Caddy's boat zone, residents supported banning boat anchoring zone carve-outs from the 300-foot-deep swim zone on Sunset Beach.
"I hope you keep it at 300 feet for safety reasons," said resident Kevin Johnson.
Last year, the commission approved a special "boat corral" near Caddy's that allowed boaters to anchor as close as 125 feet from shore. In doing so, the commission acknowledged that it might be eliminated if it affected swimmers' safety.
Safety has become an issue, police Chief Tim Casey told the commission.
"It does not seem to be working very well," he said.
He said as many as 40 boats crowd the small anchoring area, particularly on weekends, making it difficult for early arriving boats to leave without entering the swim zone.
Later arriving boats either cannot see the buoys marking the swim zone boundaries and anchor too close to shore, or are forced to anchor farther out.
Casey said his marine patrol recently had to rescue two swimmers trying to reach their boats from shore.
Casey suggested elongating the boat anchoring zone to a "half moon shape," measuring roughly 650 feet along the beach and approaching as close as 125 feet to the shore. The current zone extends only 200 feet parallel to the beach.
Commissioner Alan Bildz, who represents Sunset Beach, immediately called for the commission "to get rid of this little corral" and return the protected swim zone to 300 feet from the shore.
"If we expand the zone, there are going to be even more boats, and it will be less safe," Bildz said, suggesting that boaters wear life jackets or use flotation devices if they want to swim the greater distance.
The rest of the commission agreed and asked City Manager Reid Silverboard to prepare a formal resolution eliminating the boat anchoring zone.
If approved, the action will restrict all motorized and large sailing boats seeking to anchor at Caddy's or anywhere along designated swim zones to no closer than 300 feet from the shore.
The rules would not affect nonmotorized vehicles such as surfboards, sailboards, skimboards, canoes and kayaks.