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Anclote River needs speed limit controls

Pasco County wants to slow down speeding boats on the Anclote River, which is along the border between Pasco and Pinellas counties. Tuesday morning, Pasco County commissioners agreed to have their staff work with officials in Tarpon Springs to devise a uniform speed-control zone along the popular boating route.

Boat speeds in the river have drawn increasing scrutiny following an accident 10 months ago that claimed the life of former Tarpon Springs Commissioner Michael J. Billiris. He died after his boat crossed paths with another vessel and ended up wedged into mangroves.

Watch the boat traffic from the Anclote pier, Pasco Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said to her colleagues, "It's a zoo.''

Indeed. The Anclote provides easy access to the gulf, so it's often crowded with recreational boaters, and, in Pasco, it passes Anclote River Park, which has boat docks, a beach and convenient launches for personal watercraft.

The river also is plied by commercial sponge boats, fishing boats, tour boats and charters that dock upriver at the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. Currently, a 1.2-mile stretch of the channel (about a quarter of which is in Pasco) is without adequate speed controls,

This isn't the first time Pasco County has attempted to address boat speeds there. Nearly seven years ago, the commission approved a resolution to establish a minimum wake speed zone on the river channel, adjacent to the park. The effort foundered, however, when the city of Tarpon Springs didn't participate and officials worried the lack of a uniform speed limit along the corridor would be confusing and potentially dangerous to boaters.

In 2009, Pasco resurrected the idea amid public concerns, but the process slowed again after state law was changed to require speed control regulations to be established by local ordinance, rather than a simple resolution.

The fatal accident last August rekindled Tarpon Springs' interest in a safer speed limit and Tuesday's action by the Pasco commission allows county staff to again try to devise speed limit rules agreeable to both local governments. The request for a more tightly controlled speed zone also must be heard by the state before it's implemented.

They shouldn't hesitate. A Tarpon Springs police check over Memorial Day weekend found nearly 600 boats westbound, with 379 of the vessels (64 percent) traveling faster than the posted 25 mph speed limit. The top speed registered was 61 mph.

Better speed controls will provide a much-needed boost to safety along the river and the commission is correct to try to slow down the boating traffic there.

Swimmers and beachgoers at the Anclote River Park as well as other boaters and their passengers shouldn't be put at risk simply because someone else is in a hurry.

Anclote River needs speed limit controls 06/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 7:25pm]
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