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Crystal River boat owners object to fence

Irate boat owners ranted and raved to no avail Monday night about a new city fence that all but cuts off access to several private boats tied to the shore along NW Third Street. Calling the fence Crystal River's "wall of shame," dive shop owner Glenn Talley told City Council members that they might as well have used stones from the Berlin Wall and hired East German border guards to patrol it.

The chain-link fence, which went up Monday, makes it difficult for Talley and other boat owners to get to their boats from land. The fence does not block off a boat ramp at the end of the street.

One year ago, City Attorney Jeannette Haag recommended that the city evict the boat owners after an insurance agency warned that the city _ as owner of the embankment _ could be held liable if someone was injured getting on a boat.

The council, faced with fierce opposition from fishermen who said they had no place else to go, wavered on the issue for several months before deciding to put up the fence.

On Monday, the fishermen and other boat owners were back again. This time, they argued that the embankment belongs to the state, and the city has no right to erect a fence on state property.

"You're determined to put (the fishermen) out of work because of one strip of land that belongs to the state," said Ronald Brown, whose father James has a large houseboat along the embankment. "I don't understand it."

Harold Toms Jr., who is fighting the city in court over ownership of a former fish house at the end of the same street, said the council should question the opinion of the city attorneys that the embankment belongs to the city.

"You know it is state land and you put your head in the sand like an ostrich," Toms told the council members.

City Attorney Fred Deutschman, Haag's partner, stood by the opinion of his office that the land belongs to the city. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has given conflicting signals on who owns the land, Deutschman said, and city officials plan to meet with DNR officials.