Speed zone spat halts dock construction

MANATEE, Fla. - A dispute between the federal government and Florida officials has halted new dock construction on the Braden River while the two sides argue over a 25-mph speed zone on the Manatee County river, the Bradenton Herald reported in a story yesterday.

The speed zone is currently in place, but the federal government says it doesn't provide adequate protection for manatees. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has vowed not to allow any new docks in areas where federal scientists say state and county protections are inadequate, however, state and county officials are resisting efforts to make the zones stricter.

The end result is that locals fear new dock permits on the Braden River could be in limbo indefinitely, according to the newspaper.

Dale Weidemiller, a local developer who resides on Braden River, is worried that the dispute could stop him from building 30 docks on the river for a 230-unit residential development.

"We have no opposition to any of (the protections); we are just caught in between the governmental agencies not agreeing," Weidemiller, president of Wilmington Land Co., told the Herald.

The newspaper said that on every other waterway in Manatee County all three levels of government are in agreement on the manatee protections. But on the Braden River, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a 25-mph zone in the mid-section of the river is too fast. It wants a slow-moving zone - single-digit mph speeds so the boat nose remains level - covering most of the river.

Local officials won't reduce speeds

But county and state officials are resolved to keep the 25-mph zone, the newspaper reported.

Adding to the frustration for developers and residents, signs for the new countywide regulations should start going up early next year. Once that happens, the rest of the county will begin to have its dock permits released.

Scott Calleson, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist, told the Herald that he expects the building on the majority of Braden River to remain on hold, even areas outside the contested strip because they could increase traffic in the strip.

Charles Underwood, spokesman for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, said each permit would be considered on an individual basis. But added "the service is not issuing any permits for an area it thinks inadequate."

Underwood said the federal government would prefer to allow state and local governments to come into compliance but they can establish a stricter federal manatee protection zone if needed. However, he told the newspaper there are no current plans to take that route.

But Calleson said it is unlikely the state would revise regulations.

"The state rule making process is finished. The only thing left to do is post it," Calleson said.

Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash said the scientific research did not demonstrate the need for the elimination of the mid-river 25-mph zone and the county and state worked out a good compromise with boaters who stood adamantly against strict speed controls.

"Our process is done," McClash said.

State scientists originally advised a similar zone to the federal scientists, but the state commission changed that plan after public input, the newspaper reported.

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