St. Marys Waters Mix in Legal Stew; 'Bank-to-Bank' Workshop Could Lead to Uniform Laws on River between Florida, Georgia

Article excerpt

Byline: Gordon Jackson, The Times-Union

YULEE -- It's illegal to operate a personal watercraft in Georgia if you're younger than 12 years old, but the minimum age requirement in Florida is 14.

So how do law enforcement officials handle violations on the St. Marys River, which borders both states?

It's one of many questions pondered by a group of public officials and others at a meeting hosted by the St. Marys River Management Committee at a "bank-to-bank" agreement workshop Thursday night.

Capt. Bob Donnelly, regional director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said conflicting laws from both states make it challenging to enforce laws because boaters on one side of the river can be breaking the law and there's nothing his officers can do about it.

For example, Georgia has a law that bans boaters from creating a wake within 100 feet of a bridge, boat ramp or another boat. There is no such law in Florida, so violators can only be ticketed if they break the law on the Georgia side of the river.

"Uniformity is very important," Donnelly said. "We are very serious about getting rid of these inconsistencies."

Sgt. Ronnie Lynn, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources officer, said enforcement officers from both states work together to enforce regulations but he can only do so much to cite violators.

"If it's on the Georgia side, I can take action," Lynn said.

There's also the question about whether state legislators from both states will agree on laws that will allow officers on the river to enforce laws on both sides of the river.

"I love the idea of enforcing the law from bank to bank," Donnelly said. "But I don't know if it's doable."

The main challenge facing committee members, before going to their state representatives, is identifying all the conflicting laws and convincing legislators to write regulations that can be enforced in both states, said Mike Brown, a member of the Northeast Florida Regional Planning Council.

"Can the [state] line be erased for jurisdictional purposes? …

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