Florida may ease restrictions on dock sizes

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection plans to ask the state’s Cabinet to loosen a 19-year-old limit on dock sizes and the number of wet slips private developers can build over public waters next Tuesday, the Fort Myers News-Press reported in a storyyesterday.

While many environmentalists believe the move will lead to more boats on the waterways, which may in turn mean greater threats to manatees and underwater habitats, boaters and those in the boating industry are pleased with the potential change.

“What we’ve lost is the access to our public marinas where the families have the ability to buy a boat and put it on the water,” Jim Kalvin, a Naples marine contractor who used to own a marina in Collier County, Fla., told the newspaper. “The critical area right now is in family boat space access, and it’s just disappearing by the month.”

The old regulation limited the square footage of private, multi-family docks based on the water frontage a condo or residential development owned, as well as the number of slips for boats. Under the current rule, a developer building a 100-unit condominium might be restricted to adding 25 slips, according to the newspaper.

The revision would essentially let builders add one slip per unit. They could also escape the dock-size limit by adding public amenities such as separate public ramps, slips available to the public or by donating land, the News-Press reported.

The limit on dock sizes was enacted in 1986 after state officials decided Florida had more docks than it needed. In the two decades since, the number of registered recreational boats has skyrocketed to more than 946,000, and slips have become less accessible, according to the News-Press.

Conversion of public docks to exclusive yacht clubs prompted lawmakers last spring to offer enticements such as tax breaks to marina owners who preserve public access.

Environmental groups like Save the Manatee Club have complained DEP rushed development of the proposed rule without enough study. They say it opens a window not only for new dock construction but expansion of existing marinas.
“There’s a major problem in Florida that needs fixing,” Patrick Rose, lobbyist for Save the Manatee Club, told the newspaper.

In recent weeks, Cabinet aides said they received hundreds of e-mails from Manatee Club members urging the state not to change the regulation.
That prompted one boating industry lobbyist Wednesday to fire back. “We didn’t do the e-mail campaign, but we will by next week,” Peggy Mathews, with the Florida Marine Contractors Association, told the newspaper.

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