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Rocky Creek speed limit gets support

If there is any opposition to slowing boat traffic on Rocky Creek, there was little evidence of it at a meeting in Town 'N Country on Thursday night.

Residents were given the chance to talk about a proposed speed limit on a portion of Rocky Creek, but only a handful of people showed up. Among them was Christine King, the Plant High School senior who has been trying to protect manatees that swim in the waters behind her family's home off Sheldon Road.

"I'm glad people are supporting it and there's no opposition," Miss King said. "People are starting to realize this is important."

She has tried to persuade county officials to impose a limit along a portion of the creek that winds its way through northwest Hillsborough. The speed restrictions would cover an area starting at the mouth of Old Tampa Bay to a point about a half-mile east of Sheldon Road.

Last month, Miss King moved a step closer to her goal when Hillsborough County commissioners directed county staff to get residents' reaction to the proposed minimum-wake zone. Commissioners will vote on the proposal within 45 days, said Gil Rodriguez, director of the county's Department of Public Emergency Support Services.

Boat propellers and speeding boaters pose a danger to manatees and are blamed for many manatee deaths. And while the sea creatures may be drawn to small creeks and bays for the fresh water and the seclusion, still waters offer no promise of protection, said Beth Beeler of the state Department of Natural Resources.

"I've seen manatees that have been hit 22 times," Beeler said. "There's been a tremendous increase in manatee deaths due to human activities."

The Florida Marine Patrol, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission have jurisdiction over Tampa Bay area waters, but only four or five boats are devoted to the effort, officials said.

They acknowledged that even if a slow speed zone is established on Rocky Creek, enforcement will be difficult.

"Signs will ultimately go up and slow down most of the people, but it won't slow all of them down," Rodriguez said.