Public water access continues to shrink in Florida

COCOA, Fla. – Whitley Bay Marina, the only public marina in the city of Cocoa, Fla., may soon join the ranks of Florida marinas than have turned private, contributing to a decline in public water access, according to an article yesterday in Florida Today.

The developer that purchased the marina in late September has already changed the marina’s name to Whitley Bay Yacht Club, and while a sign at the marina still says 90 percent of the slips are available for rent by the public, that may soon change, the newspaper reported.

Many of the boaters that currently fill the marina’s 117 slips are doing everything they can to reverse the plans put in place by Whitley Bay’s new owners, however.

Mike Nulf, the fleet captain of the Indian River Yacht Club, many members of which dock their boats at the marina, told the newspaper that if it does turn private, many boaters will be forced to anchor their boats in the river, making it look like “a parking lot.” Nulf would like to see the state deny the new owners a renewal of their lease.

The boaters do have some friends in Florida’s government. Rep. Mitch Needelman told the newspaper that Florida’s loss of public water access will be discussed in the upcoming session. He believes the Department of Environmental Protection needs to reform their process for granting submerged land leases.

“I’d like to see the government give incentives for marinas that stay in place and provide public access, not punish them,” he told the newspaper. “And revenue generated by coastal counties from boat registration should be used to develop and maintain waterfront property, not be thrown into the general fund.”

Cocoa Major Mike Blake has also gotten involved, asking the city attorney to determine the city’s options for protecting public water access, according to Florida Today.

Meanwhile, public water access in Florida continues to shrink. A 2002 DEP report listed 1,546 marinas in Florida, while the department counted 944 in July, the newspaper reported in an article on Tuesday. Following a destructive hurricane season, the numbers today are likely to be even lower.

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