Bayfront mooring regulations in place

Work is expected to get under way again soon on a City of Sarasota mooring field. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The Sarasota City commissioners on July 16 put the final ordinance in place to establish a legal bayfront mooring field downtown. This required only a decade of government activity.

Commission approval followed approval by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on June 28. The city is one of five jurisdictions in the state experimenting with mooring regulation.

Contractor Dock and Marine will begin staging equipment and pilings next week on the south side iof the 10th Street Boat Ramp. The 35-boat mooring area will be managed by Marina Jack Inc.

Mooring will cost the smallest transient boat $18 per day. For a vessel 50 feet or longer, the day rate will be $25. Monthly mooring rentals range from $250 to $345 per month. Marina Jack Inc.’s website does not show that a shuttle service will be offered to the shore, only dinghy dockage.

The downtown mooring area has been a place to anchor boats for more than a century. For decades, it was free and open to use by anyone. At the turn of the current century, bayfront condominium owners became distressed at what they saw outside their windows every morning, and they began an effort to get rid of the boats.

Boaters fought back, and by 2003, an ad hoc committee had been assembled to examine the feasibility of getting state permission to establish a legal mooring field and charge for moorings. When Marina Jack Inc. acquired the rights to the O’Leary snack bar in Bayfront Park, the company became the only possible vendor for the mooring field; it was awarded the ability to act as harbor master.

The city eventually acquired the necessary paperwork for the field, after spending more than $600,000 on consultants and contractors. The money came primarily from grants to the city from the West Coast Inland Navigation District. The WCIND levies a property tax on a five-county area.

The initial engineering for the field was proven to be flawed when several of the mooring units failed a stress test. A legal tussle ensued between the city and the contractor before a new contractor was hired (and new specifications obtained).

Meanwhile, the state paperwork accumulated under the aegis of a legislatively inspired pilot program to evaluate the effect of managed moorings in municipal areas. The impact of the regulations will extend far beyond the Sarasota bayfront, because for the first time, the City of Sarasota will have the legal authority to manage anchoring.

The establishment of a legal bayfront mooring means the boats currently in that area must either sign up with Marina Jack Inc. for a space or leave the area. All boats will be banned from anchoring within 150 of the mooring’s perimeter as well as seawalls and shorelines. And no anchoring will be allowed for more than 90 days in one area.

The city’s manager for the program – Tony Russo with Public Works – says circumventing the 90-day limit is intentionally easy. “If you relocate on day 89 to somewhere else in the city, it resets the clock,” he said. However, if a boater does get cited, the first offense will cost $250; that will go up to $500 for each repeat offense.

An informal advisory committee of boaters has been keeping a wary eye on the project, which at times has drawn the attention of national boating organizations. Russo sent an email to the informal committee following commission approval to clarify how the “length of stay” restriction will be enforced.

“If a vessel has been stationary for 90 days, it must leave the city limits for at least three days or move to [the] mooring field,” he wrote. “A vessel must be relocated during the 90 days for at least three days for the clock to re-start.”

Other cities have looked at the mooring idea and pulled the plug. In March, Punta Gorda postponed “indefinitely” its plans for a municipal mooring.

The business plan for the Sarasota downtown mooring field calls for 90% occupancy.