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Date of Issue: April 21, 2005

Sandscript

The long, long story of creation of a waterborne mooring field

This is the story of a long, long process that may finally have come to a conclusion.

And, although much of the tale takes place in Sarasota, perhaps Bradenton Beach can learn from the boondoggles to the south and wind up with its own happy ending.

About 25 years ago, City of Sarasota officials were presented with a real problem with liveaboard boaters anchoring everywhere in city waters. Waterfront homeowners were livid that they had to share their million-dollar vistas with boats that, in some instances, were literally held together with baling wire.

The city began the laborious process of enacting laws to get rid of the rampant, scattered moorings. The problem, though, is that it couldn't just say, "no more boats anywhere," so some designated areas had to be set aside. After years of debate and months of vocal, angry hearings, the city devised a plan that would allow boats to anchor for a few days in a lot of places, and established some anchorages for more permanent moorings.

The mooring field locations were fixed off the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, at the tip of City Island, and the waterfront alcove at Island Park between Marina Jack restaurant and Selby Gardens.

The problem, though, was that the itinerant boaters were suddenly compressed into two areas. While the squadron kept a firm rein on the matter; the anchorage off the downtown bayfront was another matter.

The anchorage quickly turned into a bedroom community for the homeless. Thefts at the marina were rampant.

Since bathroom, shower and laundry facilities at Marina Jack were reserved for the persons who paid to dock boats there, the anchorage residents were somewhat cavalier in their facility usage. Health and water-quality issues were serious concerns since the mooring customers seldom, if ever, utilized sanitary pumpout stations.

It got so bad that a couple of guys were living in a packing crate that rested on the bottom. They'd nailed plywood onto to make it look like a boat.

Yes, it was that bad.

About 19 years ago, I got conscripted by my buddy Jack Gurney to drive a bunch of Sarasota officials over to Vero Beach to look at a mooring field they had there. Gurney was the mayor of Sarasota at the time and also happened to live downtown in one of the condos on the bayfront, giving him a front-row view of the hell that was the anchorage.

Vero Beach has a very, very nice mooring field that I guess can accommodate about 50 vessels of varying size. People can stay a day, a week or a year, utilize the laundry and other onshore services, which include a cozy little clubhouse and a modest ship's store. The fees charged boaters are based on the size of the vessel and are modest, The mooring field is operated by the city and turns a nice profit.

We were all pretty enthused about the matter and decided that a similar, although larger, waterborne complex would be a nice addition to Sarasota's bayfront. Work began on drafting plans to create a Downtown Sarasota Anchorage.

That was in 1991. Fast forward to last Monday night, when the city commission was scheduled to address a proposal to create 109 mooring sites. Some sort of progress, huh?

To be sure, things have improved greatly at the mooring field from a nadir about five years ago. Law enforcement started a vigorous crackdown on onboard rest room facilities. Boats had to have engines to anchor.

And that law enforcement crackdown brings the matter to the shore of Bradenton Beach.

A lot of the worst offenders at the Sarasota anchorage upped anchor and sailed north to a section of Anna Maria Sound just south of the city pier off Bridge Street. The same pollution problems that Sarasota had to deal with became Bradenton Beach's problem. Thievery was an issue, too X one bayfront homeowner found his garage freezer cleaned out, presumably  by one of the boat bums.

So Bradenton Beach began looking into establishing a mooring field off the pier. My old buddy Gus Antonini conducted a bay bottom mapping and depth chart to determine where and how many vessels could be accommodated.

Police Chief Sam Speciale brought in a whole bunch of anchorage experts affiliated with the University of Florida to talk to citizens and officials about how and what to do to establish the anchorage.

Bradenton Beach has a unique problem, though, in that it is about the only city around that has its boundaries end at the water's edge. No authority in the water, no enforcement of anything out in the water except by county and state officials.

Speciale started working on that matter, and then things started to drag. Elections came along, commissioners changed, and the mooring field concept got shoved onto a back burner.

Then a new commission came in last year, and the UF gang got called down to give a little spiel X again. But this time everyone involved got a pleasant surprise because the hall was packed with people who wanted to get cracking on getting a field established. Now.

Of course, the new commission is asking some of the same questions that the old commission asked about liability and staffing and added facilities and costs and all the rest.

Cost is always a good question to pose, and the numbers can be pretty staggering, depending on who's doing the talking.

By the time the water clears in Sarasota, assuming it does, the mooring field there will probably cost about $500,000.

A 75-boat anchorage off Fort Myers cost about half that much.

But the mooring field in the process of getting state permits off the Sarasota Sailing Squadron has so far incurred less than $5,000 because the squadron members have volunteered their time and expertise to shepherd the paperwork through Tallahassee. It's taken a year so far, but it's in the works.

So here we are in Bradenton Beach: Five years and counting. It will be fun to see how the race against Sarasota shapes out and who gets the best time in the mooring field event.

Species listing criteria change OK'd... but now what?

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission last week approved the modification to the "imperiled species listing process," basing their new process on something called the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

"We believe our actions today will make Florida's process one of the most effective, science-based, recovery-oriented processes in the world, but we recognize the process may not be perfect," FWC Chair Herky Huffman said, adding that the commission expects regular updates from staff on how things are going.

The FWC  was quick to add that the process change "does not immediately affect the listing status of any of the 118 animal species classified as endangered, threatened or species of special concern in the state list. It also will not affect the status of species on the federal list, which revolves around different criteria."

Environmentalists are concerned that the process change could impact manatees and other critters as far as their "endangered" versus "threatened" listing.

Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

How big was that fish? Now, we may know better

The FWC also is moving forward to more clearly define how to measure the length of a fish.

"FWC's saltwater fishing rules express size limits of marine fish in either fork length or total length," according to the agency. "Size limit measurements for fish expressed in fork length, such as Spanish mackerel, pompano, and cobia, are considered to be easily understood by fishermen and do not need further clarification. However, FWC rules do not clearly specify how to measure fish that have total length size limits, such as red drum, spotted seatrout and snook, subjecting the measurement of total length to interpretation by fishermen and law enforcement officers."

Under the proposed change, "total length means the straight line distance from the most forward point of the head with the mouth closed, to the farthest tip of the tail with the tail compressed or squeezed, while the fish is lying on its side. The commission is also proposing to clarify the measurement for triggerfish by changing its measurement from total length to fork length."

Seems pretty simple, doesn't it?

Final public hearing on the new measuring stick rule will be Sept. 21-21 in Sarasota and, if approved, will go into effect Jan. 1, 2006.

Sandscript factoid

Manatee County drinking water will face off against water samples from throughout the state Thursday for the title of "Best Tasting Drinking Water" during the Fifth Annual Drinking Water Day in Tallahassee.

Our water took the best in the five-county region that includes Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee and Sarasota.

I knew they had wacky days designated in the Holy City, but a "drinking water day?" Jeez.

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