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Airboat proposal a good step

Members of a task force that has spent six months creating a proposal to govern the operation of airboats in Hernando County are poised to float the proposal before the County Commission July 30. The result of their efforts is an ordinance that carefully balances the interests of boat owners, coastal residents and the environment.

However, one element of the recommendation _ enforcement _ needs further discussion before the commissioners adopt the ordinance. The Sheriff's Office likely will need added resources to catch violators and assess penalties, which are the most effective deterrent.

Also, the commission should develop a system that places a copy of the ordinance in the hands of airboat owners when they purchase or renew their boat registrations.

Aside from the concerns about better enforcement and awareness, the proposed ordinance is reasonable. The task force met the main objectives, which were to protect marsh grasses and shorelines and to cut down on noise pollution, while also protecting the freedom of airboat captains to operate at any time and in any area where they do not disturb residents or motorists.

One of the most promising components of the proposed law is the requirement that airboats operate within existing natural waterways. That will discourage airboat operators from acting as trailblazers or daredevils, whose maneuvers recklessly damage virgin ecosystems and risk the safety of passengers.

Also, the ordinance's proposed ban on exceeding idle speed within 1,000 feet of homes and roadways will help protect marsh grass, lessen the noise many coastal residents complain about and prevent the airboats from creating wakes that disturb other small boats.

Finally, "power loading" at public boat ramps, which is a noisy and dangerous practice that also harms the shoreline and can dredge the silt bottom of some shallow channels, will be banned.

The commissioners should appreciate the work the task force has done on this surprisingly contentious issue. It's members, with their diligence and willingness to compromise, stand head-and-shoulders above similar commission-appointed confabs.

Of course, the new law will not please everyone, but it is a fair and sincere first step toward solving a problem that has grown proportionately with the popularity of airboats.

After the commission addresses the practical issues of enforcement and education, a good ordinance will become even better.