Contentious boating ordinance approved in silence

Boats ride at anchor in Sarasota's mooring field, adjacent to Bayfront Park. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The eye of a political hurricane passed through Sarasota City Hall Monday night. There was an eerie silence on the major issue of the evening – the regulation of boating on Sarasota Bay.

Without a single comment at a pair of public hearings, the commissioners approved two ordinances. One will regulate the downtown mooring field. The other will regulate anchoring in areas of Sarasota Bay claimed by the city.

Both subjects have drawn enormous interest and comment over the past several years, pitting condominium residents against live-aboard boaters, and cruising sailors against waterfront property owners. National organizations weighed in, and the Florida Legislature in 2009 changed the laws.

But at the homestretch for the two ordinances, the nearly empty chamber was quiet.  The leader of the opposition, Ken Delacy, was on duty as a registered nurse and could not attend the meeting. However, he had sent an email to City Attorney Robert Fournier, who entered it into the record.

The finale was anticlimactic, a unanimous vote by the commissioners to adopt a controversial 90-day limit on anchoring in the bay, along with regulations forcing boaters to use the city’s to-be-constructed mooring field or to go elsewhere.

Monday was not the last stop for the city’s efforts. On May 10, the staff at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will hold its own public hearing on the city’s plans. The meeting is expected to draw national boating organizations critical of length-of-stay restrictions.

Fournier said a violation of the proposed city ordinances would be punishable with a $500 fine, but it would not be a criminal offense.

After the May 10 hearing in Tallahassee at the Florida Sheriffs’ Association headquarters, the FWC’s governing board will meet in June at West Palm Beach to pass judgment on the city’s ordinances.

Sarasota is one of five jurisdictions in Florida given the power to regulate moorings and boating activities as part of a pilot program created by the legislature and regulated by the FWC. In theory, if the pilot program is successful, the best of the five “experiments” would be combined into a new state law.

In other news of Sarasota Bay moorings, on the night of May 8, the board of the Sarasota Sailing Squadron will discuss its next move after the Florida governor and cabinet turned down its request about a week ago to create a managed mooring field east of Ken Thompson Park. The organization worked with state bureaucrats for more than a decade to “legitimize” its historic mooring field.

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