Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Editorials

Boat speed rules in Anclote River channel are a necessity for safety

Pasco County wants a safer summer boating season. Smart thinking. Tuesday, commissioners are poised to begin the approving new boat speed rules along the channel of the Anclote River. Commissioners will be asked to introduce a proposed ordinance and schedule a public hearing and final vote for April.

The commissioners should not hesitate because their boating constituents — as well as the swimmers at the Anclote River Park beach — are at risk every time a careless boater speeds by. Traffic in the boat channel "is a zoo,'' Commissioner Ann Hildebrand has told her colleagues previously.

A dangerous zoo, more accurately, that lacks adequate speed controls. The popular water route abutting Pasco and Pinellas counties has been the scene of seven boating accidents attributed to speed or wakes since 2005 including, most notably, a tragic accident in August 2010 that claimed the life of former Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Michael Billiris. His boat cross paths with another vessel and ended up wedged into mangroves.

As proposed, the Pasco ordinance will require an idle speed/no wake zone from the boat ramps at Anclote River Park to the channel and sets a slow speed/minimum wake zone on the county's portion of the river. The city of Tarpon Springs plans similar restrictions along the channel within its municipal limits. Together, the two governments will try to slow boaters along 1.2 miles of the channel that lack sufficient speed limits.

The proposed rules, already blessed by the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, are needed to slow the heavy boat traffic using the river as access to the Gulf of Mexico. Anclote River Park is on the north bank of the river where it intersects with the intake canal serving Progress Energy's Anclote power plant. The park draws up to 120 boaters to launch from its ramps. Jet skiers and kayakers also cross the channel routinely, adding to the congestion that also includes recreational boaters, as well as commercial boats and charters from the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.

The speeding is well documented. A Tarpon Springs Police check over the 2011 Memorial Day weekend found 64 percent of the 600 westbound boats traveling faster than the posted speed limit of 25 mph with one boat recklessly charging through the water at 61 mph.

Previous attempts to establish speed controls failed amid objections from the boating community and bureaucratic entanglements. Billiris' death changed much of that public resistance and now more than 500 people, many from Holiday and Tarpon Springs, have signed petitions asking for the speed limits.

Both Pasco County and Tarpon Springs should adopt the safety measures. Beach-goers and safety-minded sailors shouldn't be put at risk from some careless boater's rush to the open water.

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