Court rules against Florida’s manatee speed zone appeal

LEE COUNTY, Fla. – The state of Florida has lost its appeal of a Nov. 2002 ruling, which held that five state manatee speed zones could not be enforced because they were unconstitutional, the Fort Meyers News-Press reported in an article yesterday.

Ten boaters in Lee County had sued the state in 2002, after being cited for speeding in protected manatee zones. The boaters claimed the tickets were baseless, since the law was not grounded in sound science. When Judicial Circuit Senior Judge Jack Schoonover found in their favor, the state appealed.

“We won the case,” Fort Meyers attorney for the plaintiffs John Mills said. “ The zones can’t be enforced, the state can’t write tickets in these areas; it’s illegal.”

The ruling affects zones in five areas in southwest Florida, and only those zones. They include: Estero Bay, Matlacha Pass, and areas at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, near Shell Creek and Punta Rassa.

A spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said his agency had not yet received information about the ruling and had no comment. But Laura Combs, Southwest Florida regional coordinator for the Save the Manatee Club said the ruling could be dangerous for manatees swimming inshore during cold weather.

“We ask the boaters to voluntarily comply with the speed zones,” Combs said.

But John Kinney, the president of Lee County Standing Watch, which is a local boating coalition in the area, is concerned that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may now step in and set speed zones in the areas concerned.

“Depending on where you are, the zones would be more restricted,” Kinney said.

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