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Anchoring issues front and center in Florida

Apr 29, 2016
Anchoring has become a political issue in Florida with new legislation in the Florida legislature.

Anchoring has become a political issue in Florida with new legislation in the Florida legislature.

Robert Beringer

The Florida Legislature is again considering a controversial bill that would ban overnight anchoring near several wealthy oceanfront communities, a move that could affect voyagers. 

The proposal would bar vessels from anchoring in certain parts in the Middle River in Broward County, Sunset Lake in Miami-Dade County and along much of the Venetian Causeway in Biscayne Bay. The prohibitions would take effect a half-hour after sunset and ending a half-hour before sunrise. Violators could be fined $50 for each infraction. 

A similar bill under consideration in the state Senate would allow fines up to $250 and let law enforcement impound vessels for 48 hours under certain circumstances. 

Boat owners and advocacy groups have mobilized to fight the proposal. The Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS) argues the measure would create uncertain and inconsistent regulations across the state. 

“We want to ensure that active, responsible, cruising boaters continue to have an array of options, including anchoring out, using moorings and tying up at docks,” BoatUS President Margaret Bonds Podlich said in a statement. “We don’t want to go back in time to having different and confusing local laws that make responsible cruisers unwelcome.”

The organization also urged its 115,000 Florida members to contact their local representatives and urge a “no” vote. 

Wally Moran, who sails the East Coast in a 34-foot sailboat, has taken a different approach. He planned to raise money, $2.50 at a time, to build a chain to present to lawmakers in Tallahassee, the capital. Each donation would pay for a link on the chain, which Moran hoped would demonstrate widespread opposition to the bills. 

“I am not going to do this without at least 1,000 links in this chain,” he wrote on his blog, “Livebloggin’ the ICW.” “That’s over 1,000 inches of chain, more than 80 feet of chain. Imagine the impact this will have being toted into the house in Tallahassee, with a fisherman’s anchor attached.”

Debates about anchoring regulations are common in Florida, which generally prohibits municipalities from enacting local mooring rules. 

Despite the longstanding state laws governing mooring, the Palm Beach County town of Gulf Stream has filed a lawsuit against local boater Chris O’Hare stemming from a mooring dispute in Polo Cove, which connects with the Intracoastal Waterway. 

The town of roughly 700 residents has asked a judge to restrict mooring in Polo Cove, arguing that the waterway did not exist when Florida was granted statehood. As such, the town argues, it is exempt from state mooring statutes. 

The suit also claims Polo Cove should be limited to adjacent property owners. Gulf Stream Mayor Joan Orthwein reportedly owns a multi-million home that looks out onto Polo Cove. 

O’Hare counters that the tidal waterway has been used by boaters for nearly a century and should be regulated like others in Florida. He believes the town is trying to circumvent state authority.

The bills now under consideration in the Capitol come seven years after the state let five areas enact local mooring regulations as part of the Anchoring and Mooring Pilot Program. Those areas include Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Monroe County (covering the Florida Keys), Martin County and St. Augustine.
 
State officials are scheduled to present a report later this year focused on the impacts of the Anchoring and Mooring Pilot Program. BoatUS argues those findings should be considered before any new anchoring restrictions are approved. 

David Kennedy, a government affairs officer with BoatUS, said it wasn’t clear which way the Legislature would vote. No matter what happens at the statehouse, he said the issue is far from settled. 

“We are going to be back talking about this next year.”

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