U.S. F&WS halts dock-building permits

FORT MEYERS, Fla. – A story in today’s Fort Myers News-Press reported that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will no longer approve dock-building permits in five Florida waterways where a state judge recently ruled manatee protection boat speed zones cannot be enforced.

Bert Byers, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office in Vero Beach, Fla., said 53 dock permits were returned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regional Fort Myers office Monday without federal approval, according to the story.

The newspaper went on to say that the government’s action is in response to a court ruling last month that manatee speed zones couldn’t be enforced in those waterways.

“That’s not the end of it, there’s going to be more,” Byers said. “We had to respond in this manner in order to protect manatees. These are now considered to be areas where death or harm may reasonably be expected to occur to manatees.”

The federal agency, which under the U.S. Department of the Interior is responsible for enforcing the 1973 Endangered Species Act, will no longer support dock building in Estero Bay, Matlacha Pass and Punta Rassa, all located in Lee County, the story quoted Byers as saying.

Skip Bergmann, team leader with the Corps’ Fort Myers office, said Monday the federal announcement means all dock permits — for both single family docks and multifamily slips — have been denied in the five unenforceable state speed zone areas, the story said.

Those zones include: Estero Bay, Matlacha Pass, in waterways 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.

Local economy could suffer

Some believe the federal government’s actions could harm the local economy by causing a “ripple effect” that could potentially drive area dock builders out of business, according to the News-Press.

“My initial response is that I’m a little angry,” Mike McCartney, a Cape Coral dock builder and president of American Marine Construction told the News-Press. “It strikes me as nothing more than federal arm twisting. It’s just nonsense.”

Byers said all other state and federal boat speed zones in Lee County and elsewhere in the state still are being enforced, and Bergmann said the dock builders who have been denied permits can reapply if the speed zones are later reinstated, the newspaper reported.

“We need three things to be in place: speed zones, signs and enforcement,” Byers said. “When adequate protection measures are put back in place, (dock) permit applications can be resubmitted for consideration.”

But Cape Coral realtor Jim Rickert said this action could put Lee County boat dock builders out of business, the story said.

“A single-slip moratorium would have a huge impact on the economy,” Rickert said. “We would have a really big problem with the ripple effect. If we were to put a moratorium on building single family boat docks in Cape Coral, we estimate that would take away 35 percent of the economy. It would have a horrendous impact on everybody throughout the city.”

The paper said a separate effort to reinstate the speed zones is still going forward, and that the commission has filed its appeal to the Second District in Lakeland. The court has agreed to review the case, but no hearing date has been set.

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