Naples strikes deal on manatee protection rules

NAPLES, Fla. – Negotiators struck a deal this week with state regulators about manatee protection rules, according to a story in today’s Naples Daily News.

The deal calls for the city to amend its marina rules to comply with updates to the county’s manatee protection plan — if they are “applicable to the Naples area.”

But the story quoted a manatee advocate who said Thursday that the deal falls short.

The agreement would resolve a dispute between the city and state Department of Community Affairs that has held up a settlement of multimillion-dollar claims Collier Enterprises filed against the city.

The claims were in regards to the proposed Hamilton Harbor marina on Naples Bay, for which was planned 36 slips, a 450-boat storage warehouse, a public fueling station, commercial loading dock and a private club, the story said.

Naples City Attorney Bob Pritt said the agreement is “something the city can live with,” but said the decision is up to the Naples City Council, which is scheduled to vote on the agreement at a March 3 meeting, according to the story.

The deal is reported to clarify how to measure a requirement that water be at least 4 feet deep, or be able to be legally dredged to 4 feet deep, at a marina site for it to be ranked as preferred marina sites in the city’s growth plan, the Daily News said.

An early version of the city’s marina rules required only that the 4-foot depth apply to access to a channel — not necessarily all the way to deeper water, according to the DCA. The new version closes that loophole, according to the paper.

The deal weakens earlier demands by the DCA that the city provide additional data and analysis on marinas’ impacts on manatees and their habitat, but instead requires the city to contribute $5,000 to help the county collect and analyze data on manatees and manatee habitat when the county updates its manatee protection plan, the newspaper reported.

The article also said the deal drops an earlier demand by the DCA that the city forbid any new dredging for marinas — something that would have made it impossible to build Hamilton Harbor.

“We don’t think the settlement agreement provides manatees the protection they need,” said Laura Combs, regional coordinator for The Save the Manatee Club.

Collier Enterprises filed a $25 million lawsuit in 2000 after a newly elected City Council rescinded previous approvals for the marina. The company followed up with a $19 million property-rights claim against the city in 2001, the story said.

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