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Alligator Lake has new boat limits

The city soon will require boaters to keep their distance from two islands in Alligator Lake, which will protect nesting birds and infuriate at least one waterskier.

Boats will be banned from within 100 meters, approximately a football field's length, of the islands.

The vessel exclusion area, recently sanctioned by the Florida Marine Patrol, will keep much of the 80-acre lake off limits to boaters and waterskiers. City officials say the barrier will protect hundreds of herons and egrets that nest on the islands.

City Manager Pamela Brangaccio said signs on poles or buoys should be posted in the lake by the end of July. They will say "Vessel Exclusion, No Boats Beyond This Point, Bird Sanctuary."

For years, the city has tried to control speed and noise on Alligator Lake, which is surrounded by homes and condominiums. But efforts to limit the horsepower of boats and to make the lake an idle-speed zone have failed to win the blessing of state agencies.

In April, resident Daniel Craven successfully fought a citation he had received for waterskiing from a 200-horsepower boat. A Pinellas County judge said the city's 10-horsepower limit for boats was unconstitutional.

Craven said he had supported the idea of a buffer zone for the islands but was outraged to learn that the exclusion area would cut the midsection of the lake in half.

"Now the Marine Patrol has jumped on the idiot bandwagon," said Craven, a builder. "That's like saying go boating in your bathtub or your pool. It's ludicrous."

Craven said the city used the nesting bird issue as a smokescreen to hide its real motive, which he believes is to keep boaters and waterskiers off the lake.

"The birds are strictly a tool," Craven said. "It's a personal damn issue."

But Brangaccio said the 100-meter boundary was recommended by the Audubon Society. The exclusion area has nothing to do with eliminating boat traffic from Alligator Lake, she said.

"The whole purpose . . . was to protect the two rookery islands," Brangaccio said. "We're using this right now as our way of addressing the environmental concerns."

Vice Mayor Dan Pohto said he hopes the buffer zone cuts down some of the rowdiness on Alligator Lake. But he doesn't want responsible boaters to suffer.

"It seems to be taking a lot away from there," Pohto said. "Hopefully, there's still a lot of lake out there for them."

Mayor Kent Runnells said the sweeping buffer zone is unfair to boaters. He believes making the lake an idle-speed zone is the only long-term solution. But that idea was rejected by the Marine Patrol last year.

"The whole issue is just very problematic. There's about three or four governmental agencies with jurisdiction, and their criteria are like, mutually exclusive," Runnells said. "It's just a mess."

Craven said he plans to have his attorney review the vessel exclusion plan.

"If it's fightable, I'll fight it," he said. "If it's not, I won't."