Boat speed zone plan draws fire

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - More than 200 people showed up at a public hearing about the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's plan to impose permanent manatee protection speed zones in Lee County waters, with most voicing opposition to the proposals, the Fort Myers News-Press reported in a story today.

Arnold Kempe, the mayor of Cape Coral, Fla., was the first speaker at the hearing and questioned the wisdom of the federal takeover of the speed zones when Lee County already has speed zones in place, the newspaper reported.

"It seems inappropriate to have the federal government get involved before they see how well local and state enforcement works," Kempe said. "The federal government should only get involved if the county and state are not doing their job."

The public hearing was part of a process by which the wildlife service hopes to impose permanent speed zones in Lee County waters, according to the newspaper.

In 2002, 20th Circuit Senior Judge Jack Schoonover ruled that state manatee speed zones in Estero Bay, Matlacha Pass, near York and Galt islands, and at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee were unconstitutional. Schoonover said the science used to set up the speed zones was unsound because manatees don't use those areas enough to warrant special protection, the newspaper reported.

The wildlife service then created an emergency rule that temporarily placed those speed zones under federal jurisdiction. If the federal government decides to take over the speed zones, an announcement will be published in the Federal Register by April 6, and the speed zones will be posted soon after that, according to the News-Press

Many speakers Wednesday agreed with Schoonover that the speed zones are not based on sound science.

Cape Coral resident Les Hickman insisted boaters want sound science while environmentalists don't. "Feds, fold your tents and go home. We can take care of our own," he said.

If the federal government does take over the speed zones, commercial fishermen and fishing guides, who were exempt from the speed zones under the state rules, will no longer have that exemption, the newspaper reported.

"As far as business goes, it kills us," said charter Capt. Mike Smith of North Fort Myers. "Now if you go out to fish, and the fish ain't biting, you have to idle all the way to someplace else. That eats into an hour of somebody's money they're paying me to catch fish. People will get tired of it and go someplace else."

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