Boaters clash with manatee advocates

Published May 26, 1991|Updated Oct. 13, 2005

After a rowdy hearing spiced by heated exchanges, the Volusia County Council has approved a patchwork of boating speeds designed to protect manatees on two rivers. The problem is they conflict with speed limits being proposed by the Florida Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for approval by Gov. Lawton Chiles and the Cabinet for the Halifax and St. Johns rivers.

Always controversial, the speed-limit issue produced some heat at a public hearing held by the seven-member County Council on Thursday night.

One council member accused another of wanting "to ride the sea cow (issue) to Washington."

A boater told a manatee supporter to "get out of my face," and there were isolated confrontations among members of opposing sides, who kept to opposite sides of the room. The seven-hour hearing was punctuated by a dozen outbursts of applause and several hearty rounds of cheers and jeers.

The council's action sets up a showdown with the DNR, which will hold a public hearing on the issue June 5 in Daytona Beach.

The county's plan sets up speed limits on the rivers and lakes ranging from no-wake zones to 35 mph. The DNR plan is similar, but it calls for a top speed of 30 mph on major waterways and sets lower speeds than the county in many tributaries.

Collisions with boat hulls and propellers have accounted for at least a fourth of the deaths of the endangered manatees since 1974, supporters of speed limits say. In 1989, 13 counties were ordered by the governor and Cabinet to enact manatee protection plans.

And nowhere have tempers run as high as in Volusia County.

Thirty-nine people spoke, 22 for the manatee side, 14 for the boaters and fishermen. The rest fell somewhere in between.

Of particular concern to boaters and anglers is the state's proposed slow-speed zone on the Norris Dead River. The owner of a popular 29-year-old fish camp claims the zone will put him out of business.

Chiles and the Cabinet are to vote on the DNR proposals June 25.