Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Manatee Safety Concern for Bowl 2005 Big Game to Boost River Traffic

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Manatee Safety Concern for Bowl 2005 Big Game to Boost River Traffic

Article excerpt

Byline: David DeCamp, Times-Union staff writer

An increase in river traffic attracted to Jacksonville's 2005 Super Bowl will challenge organizers, but federal and environmental officials say it's still possible to keep the river safe for wildlife.

The football spectacle is expected to draw significantly more water taxis, ferries and private boaters to the downtown waters, which are considered among Florida's high-risk stretches for manatees. Duval County recently set a record of 11 manatees confirmed killed by watercraft during the year, while two more deaths are being studied, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Chuck Underwood said yesterday. The previous record was nine.

Although the early February game date is generally not a high time for manatees in the cooler river, warmer than usual temperatures might lure them into the St. Johns, said Pat Rose, an aquatic biologist and lobbyist for Save the Manatee Club.

Expecting the boat rush, the Coast Guard has declared the Super Bowl a special operation, said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Penoyer. It could even shut down part of the river during the game, as the service did on the Mississippi River during this year's Super Bowl in New Orleans. In the past, the St. Johns has been temporarily closed for fireworks and other events.

To keep manatees protected around boats, the Coast Guard also may limit traffic and reduce the speed limit along the river. Another option is putting protective devices on rotors.

"We fully intend to tailor the plan to protect endangered species," Penoyer said.

But two of Jacksonville's most prominent plans -- using cruise liners and creating a temporary entertainment plaza -- also pose difficulties.

The cruise ships have to sail up the St. Johns and dock along it. They'll provide entertainment venues and 6,000 to 10,000 hotel rooms.

Meanwhile, a dozen or so barges will be combined to create a riverfront entertainment complex with restaurants and nightlife.

If properly done, neither project should harm manatees. Parked vessels generally aren't too hazardous, federal officials said, as long as waste and fuel are handled safely. Even then, Penoyer suggested an environmental emergency team may be necessary.

The cruise ships are expected to navigate the river as other commercial ships now do.

"From a cruise ship standpoint, once they're taken and docked properly, it's not an issue for manatees," Rose said.

The Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee plans to comply with environmental regulations, said Michael Kelly, president and chief operating officer. But Rose, after witnessing an ongoing dispute over construction of two local marinas and manatee safety, is a bit skeptical future Super Bowl planning will go properly.

City Hall and developers are fighting environmentalists and federal officials who want greater safety measures, which Rose suggested doesn't bode well for manatees in 2005. …

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