Florida to appeal manatee decision

FORT MEYERS, Fla. – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will ask permission to enforce five newly lifted state manatee speed zones in Lee County, a story in today’s Fort-Meyers News-Press reported .

The commission wants to enforce the zones while it appeals a ruling by Judicial Circuit Senior Judge Jack Schoonover, who last week denied a motion for a rehearing of an opinion he handed down last November which declared five South Florida speed zones – in Estero Bay, Matlacha Pass, near York and Galt islands at the south end of Pine Island, at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River and near Shell Creek and Punta Rassa – unconstitutional, the newspaper said.

“We’re supportive of the state’s effort to appeal to the district court,” southwest regional coordinator of the Save the Manatee Club Laura Combs said. “But, we’re urging the federal and state agencies to move as quickly as possible to give manatees the protections they need.”

But the Fort Myers attorney involved in the original court case doesn’t believe the federal government should step in.

“It would be foolish for the feds to try and adopt the same rules that were just proven unconstitutional,” attorney John Mills said. “I would be shocked at the arrogance of (the U.S.) Fish & Wildlife (Service) if they tried to shut down the waters. It’s total overkill.”

“Areas of Concern” may be enacted
It is also possible that the government could reinstate Lee County’s federal area of inadequate protection for endangered manatees, the story said.

The Army Corps of Engineers has in the past stopped issuing dock-building permits on new multifamily developments in Lee County until speed zones were designated and enforced, the newspaper said.

A spokesman for the Corps said it was possible the now unprotected areas may be designated as “areas of concern” the same designation as an area of inadequate protection.

Bert Byers, spokesman for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Vero Beach, said his agency wants to meet with the state before making a decision on what to do next.

“It’s unfortunate that the court made this decision,” Bert Beyers, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Vero Beach said. “But, we want to work with the state as partners and decide what is in the best interest of the manatee.”

No meeting date between the state and federal agencies has been scheduled according to the story.

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