Florida moves to reclaim control of manatee speed zones

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The state of Florida has taken its first step towards regaining control of five manatee boat-speed zones in Lee County, with the formation of a citizen’s committee to make recommendations as to speed zone locations, speeds and seasonal zones, according to a story in today’s Fort Myers News-Press.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission asked Lee County to form the group because it has expressed interest in once again taking over speed zones from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The state lost control of five speed zones this spring after a circuit judge ruled they were unconstitutional, the News-Press reported.

The contested zones include 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.

Florida wants to rewrite the rules on these zones to reclaim them according to the newspaper, but must first create a local committee.

Steve Boutelle, Lee’s marine engineering manager, said the state will send the county a report that the committee – comprised of 10 members, five boaters and five environmentalists – will discuss, then make recommendations upon, the News-Press reported.

“After their first meeting, they need to generate a written report back to the state within 60 days,” Boutelle said.

Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida commission, said the committee is the first step on a long road to retaking the zones. The next step will be to have public meetings, according to the newspaper.

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