Access battle goes to Florida capital

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A proposal that would convert the Whitley Bay Marina in Cocoa, Fla., into a members-only yacht club was hotly debated yesterday in the state’s capital, where dozens of opponents made passionate pleas against it, Florida Today reported in a story Thursday.

Boaters’ rights groups, Cocoa residents and city staff urged the Cabinet to preserve public-access to Florida’s waterways.

“We are all alarmed with what’s been happening throughout the state,” said Bonnie Basham, a representative of Standing Watch and the Florida Council of Yacht Clubs. “Open to the public has got to mean open to the entire boating public, and not just the public who has $100,000 to buy a slip.”

But the developers’ attorney asked the Cabinet to consider the money his clients have invested — an investment he says will benefit the public, or at least a part of it, the newspaper reported.

“Our client has invested a lot of money into this. They are not trying to do something that hasn’t been done around the state,” said Steven Lewis, an attorney for the Whitley Bay Yacht Club. “There is a sector out there of the public that do want these kind of slips. They may only represent 1 percent or a half-percent, but they paid the fees and they bought the boats.”

The battle over Cocoa’s public-access marina has raised statewide concerns over what’s becoming a growing trend: the conversion of state lands to exclusive use, according to Florida Today.

Some have called for the Cabinet to defer a decision on the Whitley Bay Marina until a statewide solution can be devised. Others, who fear the state might create a mandatory public-access requirement for all marinas, have asked for decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis.

“This issue has raised a very large issue,” said Bud Vielhauer, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection deputy general counsel for state lands. “Over the next two months, we’ll work on the bigger issue, we’ll look at public-access conversions and come back with a recommendation.”

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