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Residents advocate for Blind Pass no wake zone

The water channel is currently a no wake zone on weekends only, and presents a safety hazard, neighbors say

TREASURE ISLAND — On weekends and holidays, the rules change for a roughly 1-mile stretch of Blind Pass.

Those days, the waterway between St. Pete Beach and Sunset Beach is designated as a no wake/minimum wake zone, meaning that boats have to slow down when passing through the area.

Residents who own homes on the waterfront area say that on weekdays, boats often speed through the waterway with little regard for kayakers, paddle boarders and marine life. They argue that it’s a safety issue that’s only gotten worse during the pandemic, as more boaters hit the water in their free time.

Now, the city of Treasure Island is considering designating the waterfront as a full-time no-wake zone, with the issue scheduled for discussion Thursday at a City Commission workshop.

William Roth and his wife, Dawn, bought a house on the Sunset Beach side of the waterfront about five years ago. Because the channel is narrow and has seawalls on both sides, fast boats can cause big waves to rock back and forth between the two sides “like a bathtub,” William said.

Bridget and Hendrik Bisanz are pictured on their catamaran, docked at their waterfront home on Blind Pass where the family often sees boaters speeding through, putting wildlife and even people, at risk, on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020 in Treasure Island. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

“It just seems like it’s getting more and more dangerous,” William Roth said. He’s seen two dead baby dolphins in the water, hit by boats, and the scarring on manatees.

The channel can be as narrow as about 300 feet. It’s surrounded by homes with seawalls on each side and a small stretch of beach located near Shrimpys Blues Bistro.

Having lived in a waterfront property on Treasure Island’s Bayshore Drive for 30 years, resident Mary Elizabeth Ball sees both sides of the issue.

“Most of the time, people are sensible,” she said.

Currently, jurisdiction over Blind Pass is divided between St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island, with a vertical line down the middle through the pass. The side nearest to Coquina Way is regulated by St. Pete Beach, while the side near Bayshore Drive is under Treasure Island’s designation.

The signs for both sides declare the pass a no-wake zone on weekends only. But St. Pete Beach Mayor Alan Johnson said St. Pete Beach’s rules technically state that its portion of Blind Pass is a no-wake zone every day of the week.

A boat passes through Blind Pass, creating a wake in the channel lined by homes, on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020 in Treasure Island. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

“It makes no sense for the two sides to be different,” said Johnson, who supports the proposed Treasure Island no-wake zone.

Hendrik and Bridget Bisanz have also been advocating for the change. They purchased a waterfront house on the Sunset Beach side in March.

“You should have rules,” Bridget Bisanz said, comparing the proposal to laws requiring seat belts.

They noted the dangers posed to dolphins and manatees in the area. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, manatee deaths are up in 2020 and some advocates for sea cows think it could be due to an increase in boat traffic during the pandemic.

The Bisanz’s daughters, Johanna, 9, and Annalise, 7, enjoy paddle-boarding in the water, a pastime that can be difficult when boats come through.

“I’m afraid when fast boats go by,” Annalise said.

Commissioners are divided on the issue.

District One Commissioner and Vice Mayor Deborah Toth said most of her constituents have said they would not be affect by the changes because they use nearby John’s Pass to access the Gulf of Mexico. The few that have expressed an interest in the issue have asked that the area be left alone, and more patrols sent to monitor John’s Pass.

Looking out over Blind Pass, where a family is advocating for a no-wake zone to stop speeding boaters and curb dolphin and manatee deaths, on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020 in Treasure Island. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

Toth also expressed concerns about the potential cost of changes, which would require legal fees, staff research time and commission time. She also said that Blind Pass has remained a weekends-only no-wake zone for the past 25 years and that Treasure Island’s police chief has said there have been no reported accidents.

District Four Commissioner Maribeth Wetzel is in favor of the change. Her district includes the Treasure Island residents on Blind Pass and she said while the consensus was not unanimous, most of the constituents she’s heard from support the change.

The issue has been brought up in the past, and shut down quickly, Wetzel said. While there hasn’t been an accident yet in the area, she said that doesn’t mean the rules shouldn’t change.

“Near misses don’t get reported necessarily,” she said.