TARPON SPRINGS — Laura Wessner knows personally the danger that speeding boats on the Anclote River can pose.
She was a passenger on a boat driven by popular Tarpon Springs resident Michael Billiris when it collided with another vessel Aug. 10 on the river. Billiris died in the crash and Wessner was seriously injured.
"We just went on a nice boat ride, and if he would not have pushed my head down, I wouldn't be here today," Wessner said Tuesday night after a Tarpon Springs City Commission work session, where officials began discussing a lower speed limit on the river.
"That's what saved my life. They need to look at slowing the speed down."
Wessner, who is slowly healing from the accident, listened as boaters and residents spoke passionately about why and how to control the speed on the river. The meeting drew about 75 people.
Police Chief Bob Kochen presented four options for controlling the speed on the about 1-mile stretch from a bridge at Alternate U.S. 19 to the Pasco-Pinellas county line. There is no speed limit on that stretch of the river, Tarpon City Manager Mark LeCouris said.
The commission could enact a slow speed/minimum wake zone, an idle speed/no wake zone, slow speed/minimum wake zone for certain hours, or enact a maximum speed restriction.
While the commission favored the slow speed/minimum wake zone, Kochen said it could take as long as six months before an ordinance could be enacted.
Kochen said it's imperative for Pasco County to have the same ordinance and the matter ultimately must be approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Tallahassee. Pasco County's parks staff now favors the same slow speed/minimum wake zone as Tarpon's commission, Kochen said.
"A single across-the-board rule is the best way to deal with this," Commissioner Robin Saenger said. "It has to be consistent and very clearly signed."
From 1998 to 2009, there were 35 boating accidents on the Anclote River, the wildlife commission said. Of those, 28 were in Pinellas County. There were three fatalities and 26 injuries.
The fatal accident involving Billiris, 59, is still being investigated.
Some in attendance carried signs that said "no wake." And while all are concerned about the speed of boats on the Anclote River, some commercial fisherman said a no wake zone would hamper their livelihood.
"It would be longer idle time out and longer idle time in," said David Graham, owner of a charter boat company. "If they go no wake, it could add two hours to a trip and I'm not going to short my customers and I have to give them the time they paid for.
"So, it ultimately would be taking food out of my family's mouth."
Matt Daggy, who manages a marina on the Anclote, presented a petition with 642 signatures that asked the commission to do something to regulate the speed on the river.
"We just want some form of regulation," Daggy said. "We just want the river to be safe for everyone."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at [email protected] or (727) 445-4174.