Sailboats from various racing classes across South Florida will compete off Fort Lauderdale beach in the 2013 Hospice by the Sea Regatta on Saturday, May 18. The challenging 12-mile, multi-leg course, helps raise funds for Hospice by the Sea, Inc. For more information, visit the website online at www.hbts.org.
New River residents seek relief
Wakes from speeding boats battering seawalls and docks
DOUGLAS JORDAN Waterfront Times
Bob Brinkman, a homeowner on Fort Lauderdale’s New River, says he’s tired of wakes slamming into his dock from speeding boats.
“It’s a constant battering,” Brinkman said. “As soon as they come around the turn at Tarpon Bend, a lot of them throttle way up. A lot us have had damage to our docks, and to our boats.”
Brinkman’s house on Southeast Seventh Street is on the widest portion of the New River, which sees a lot of traffic, especially on weekends. Tarpon Bend is a 45-degree turn in the river at about Southeast 15th Avenue, where it widens significantly as it proceeds east to the Intracoastal Waterway.
Currently, the area is designated as a “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake” zone, which according to state regulations means that boats must be off-plane and settled completely into the water, creating a wake that is not “excessive.”
“The word ‘excessive’ can mean a lot of different things,” Brinkman said. “What’s excessive? How do you define that, exactly? If you ask any of the people living along the waterway, you’re probably going to get a much different answer than you’d get from, say, a Water Taxi captain.”
Brinkman, who is representing several homeowners fed up with the pounding waves, is lobbying to get the speed zone reduced to “Idle Speed, No Wake,” allowing only enough speed for a vessel to maintain headway.
Waterway speed zones are set by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Though Brinkman said he’s talked to “everybody I can think of,” he hasn’t gotten much in the way of relief.
“We went before the city’s Marine Advisory Board in hopes that they could approach the FWC about changing the speed limit, but they weren’t really able to help,” he said. “I’ve even been on the phone several times with the head of the FWC in Tallahassee, Nick Wiley.”
Barry Flanigan, chairman of the Fort Lauderdale Marine Advisory Board, said he met with Brinkman both before and during a recent meeting.
“I had a lengthy discussion with Mr. Brinkman,” Flanigan said. “I attempted to convey to him that it’s not something that we can change, and that it needs to be done at a state level. He indicated that he had some kind of connection to the governor, and I recommended that he use it.”
Flanigan said the speed limit in that area has remained unchanged since they were established in the 1980s, but that the board was sympathetic to homeowners’ concerns.
“I wouldn’t want my boat rocked around, either,” he said. “Honestly, I’m not sure how the FWC decides these things. They actually increased the speed allowed in the narrower portion of the New River west of Tarpon Bend running downtown not too long ago. I have no idea why they would have done that, and it’s certainly not something that we endorsed.
“In fact, that was done without any input from the City of Fort Lauderdale. We’d like to see them show the city a little more consideration before they change these things.”
FWC spokeswoman Katie Purcell said the process her agency uses to create or modify speed zones is multifaceted.
“In general, we work directly with the Legislature,” Purcell said. “FWC can make direct changes to the Florida Administrative Codes, however. The Commission generally takes information from a lot of sources, including input from the public, from officers serving a particular area, and it also looks at things like accident statistics. Everything we do is always in the interest of boating safety.”
Purcell said she did not have any direct knowledge of the homeowners’ effort to change the speed in the New River.
Flanigan said that when Andrew Cuba, Fort Lauderdale’s marine facilities director, contacted an official from the FWC about the possibility of a reduced speed in the New River, he was rebuffed.
“I don’t know who it was specifically that he spoke to, but from what I understand, he was told, rather flippantly, ‘it’s never gonna happen,’” Flanigan said. “That’s not particularly encouraging, and I think the issue deserves more than casual attention from the FWC.”
Flanigan said the city’s police department has stepped up enforcement of speed violations with its marine division.
“The police department has responded to the situation by putting additional units there,” Flanigan said. “But there are only eight cops out there on the water covering a lot of territory. And, of course, Fort Lauderdale’s waterways are among the most congested in the state, so it’s always a challenge. But we’re pleased with the response they’ve given us.”
Brinkman said he’s sustained damages that include losing one dock — which he conceded was not constructed properly — and having his 22-foot boat knocked off its floating dock platform from excessive wakes. One of his neighbors, Edd Helms, had $30,000 worth of damage done to his boat when a wake slammed it into a seawall, he said. Helms told the Sun Sentinel in April that “we’re subjected to this abuse every day.”
“A good part of it is from the commercial traffic, like the Water Taxis, which run all day and half the night,” Brinkman said. “But the more severe damage is done by the occasional idiot in a private boat who floors it as soon as he gets into the open water.”
He said he also owns a larger boat, a 56-foot Express Cruiser.
“I know bigger boats create bigger wakes – it’s just physics,” he said. “But I can run my 56 without creating a damaging wake.”
Brinkman said he’s not optimistic, but that he’s not going to give up.
“We’re going to approach the city, including the Marine Advisory Board, again in the near future,” he said. “And I’m going to continue to work with the FWC. This has gotten out of hand.”
Floating markers to help protect ailing Featherbed Banks
ARNOLD MARKOWITZ Waterfront Times
Philanthropy will make it possible this year for Biscayne National Park to post its long-suffering Featherbed Banks with 50 floating markers that should prevent further destruction of the big shoal by accidental groundings and propeller scarring. More philanthropy will start repairing historic Fowey Light and fund programs that educate local school children and errant boaters.
It’s reasonable to project that thanks to a $35,000 gift from seafood distributor Pescanova USA, the Featherbeds in some now-unpredictable future era may revive, grow rich crops of seagrass and resume their natural duty of nurturing the beginnings of marine life. How soon or how late that happens will depend on whether Biscayne gets money to replant the Featherbeds or has to wait while they self-restore.
Featherbed’s history of destructive groundings and boat prop gouging long predates the national park’s 1968 conception as a national monument. The Intracoastal was dug through it. Barges and boats, big and small, tore up the channel edges. Outboarders swung wide to pass other traffic, misjudging water depths.
Before GPS, routes around the shoals to Boca Chica Key’s boat harbor and lighthouse were well charted but unmarked. Even the most careful boaters made mistakes when visibility wasn’t good.
Whether GPS made as much difference as it should have is doubtful. With unmissable markers soon to surround the shallows, what excuses can be made?
It isn’t clear if 50 markers will be enough, but that’s 50 more than there are now. Biscayne spokeswoman Christiana Admiral said the project is still being planned, with installation now meant to take place this summer.
That and other non-government generosity made April a pretty good month for Biscayne, which — like all other U.S. national parks — was zapped in March by a 5.1 percent cut in its current operating budget. More reductions are expected in the next two fiscal years.
In addition to Pescanova’s grant, the Florida Keys Reef Lights Foundation and the Florida Lighthouse Association announced a $35,000 grant to the park for a project to stabilize the structure of historic Fowey Light and prevent further corrosion.
Until last October, the light at the eastern edge of the park’s offshore waters was owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. Its full restoration is on the park’s list of wishes and dreams.
Fowey, first lit in 1878, is more than an artifact. Its light still blinks a warning to ships that shallow reefs lurk just beneath the surface. Closer to home, fishing-doers know it as a place to catch bait. Lined up with Soldier Key, it tells boaters how near to port they are.
“The lighthouse has a lot of issues, and the park has a long list of stabilization and rehabilitation projects that we will be working through in a specific order,” said Charles Lawson, Biscayne’s cultural resources manager. “The first priority is toward stabilization and protection of the structure, the second is toward weatherproofing and the third is to public access and preservation.”
The reef-saving groups’ donation is to pay for replacing a failed submerged cathodic protection system — a dead bulk anode — and a broken structural tension rod, Lawson said:
“They will help to arrest ongoing deterioration and enhance structural stability of the lighthouse. Once completed, they will buy time in the lifespan of the structure to allow us to find funding necessary to continue through the priority list.”
On a rough-weather day with wind and waves assaulting it, the light looks mighty rickety. Lawson said that a condition assessment indicated it’s not that bad:
“The light is pretty sound, structurally (i.e. the main columns and tension rods are in fairly decent shape), with an estimated life span (if nothing was done) of about 30 years. It is all of the decking, railings, coatings and the residence that need a lot of work. But it probably won’t (fingers crossed) fall down.”
Eric S. Martin, president of the Florida Keys Reef Lights Foundation, said the lighthouse groups hope now to raise another $60,000 to replace U-bolts holding the structure’s tension rods. The old ones were made of incompatible metal, causing corrosion.
Much of the money will come from sales of Florida’s “Visit Our Lights” license plates. The $25 surcharge for the special tag goes to the Florida Lighthouse Association, which donated to the Keys Reef Lights Foundation for the Fowey project.
The South Florida National Parks Trust, a non-profit agency that arranged the grant for the Featherbeds, also gave Biscayne $45,000 for three other programs:
l $25,000 for Biscayne Expedition, which hosts about 3,000 school children each year on Elliott Key for day classes and overnight camping. Two of this year’s five scheduled sessions were cancelled when the park was made to reduce its budget — including transportation costs for Biscayne Expedition. The grant will be used next fiscal year.
l $10,000 for a boater education course meant to reduce grounding damage like the mess at the Featherbeds. Boaters found guilty in court of doing that and hitting coral reefs can take the three-hour class instead of paying a fine.
l The classes, given quarterly at the park’s Dante Fascell Visitor Center near Homestead, are free to the general public. In the course’s first year, it was attended by 17 people with violation tickets and eight without. For more information on that, see www.nps.gov/bisc/parkmgmt/grounding-awareness-class.htm
l Another $10,000 grant funds recruitment of college students to spend their spring break as volunteers clearing debris from park beaches in advance of turtle nesting season.
Red snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico can still be fun, as long as someone else takes responsibility for awareness of the border between state and federal waters. If you’re caught catching reds across the line 9 miles offshore, it had better be the other guy’s fault.
Here’s why: the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission in April approved a 44-day season, June 1 to July 14, in state waters up to 9 miles out where federal jurisdiction begins.
On the far side of that boundary, the federal NOAA Fisheries Division is proposing a 21-day season — dates not yet set. Ordinarily, the FWC adjusts its regulations to match federal rules for specific species, but this time there’s a background of conflict.
Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi want sole jurisdiction over red snapper. Florida has empirical evidence that the fish’s population is improving, and is betting that a pending federal stock assessment will agree. The federal approach has been to allow anglers more poundage, but in shorter seasons.
Until that’s settled, fishing-doers should play it safe.
Are you good at catching invasive exotic fish? They’re great sport on light tackle. You can win money and prizes for catching guapote, Mayan cichlid, oscars, snakeheads, midas and others and turning them in for disposal to the fourth annual Everglades CISMA Non-native Fish Roundup on Saturday, May 18.
CISMA stands for Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area. It’s a project of federal, state and local agencies.
Exotics have rebounded in a big way since a disastrous cold spell in January 2010 seemed to have wiped out most of them.
Although nominally aimed at taking exotics out of the Everglades, the roundup’s reach is much broader. Tony Pernas one of the organizers, said the eligible territory includes the suburban and urban areas of Miami-Dade, Collier, Lee, mainland Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
There are three rural weigh-in stations where contestants have to bring their fish by 3:20 p.m. on tournament day.
Cautionary note: to enter, you have to register online and pay $27.37 by credit card, no later than 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 12.
Another caution: Butterfly peacock (peacock bass) and carp, although exotic, are not invasive and not eligible for roundup. Every other non-native fish is fair game.
To register and to see the rules and prizes, go online to:
www.evergladescisma.org/roundup/ and revisit later to check for revisions.