Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Boating Rules Proposal Would Help End Manatee Lawsuit

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Boating Rules Proposal Would Help End Manatee Lawsuit

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson, Times-Union staff writer

A federal agency plans to propose new boating restrictions in Duval and Clay counties to help settle a lawsuit about manatee protection.

The restrictions would greatly expand no-wake zones on the St. Johns River from downtown Jacksonville to south of Fleming Island, including Doctors Lake. On the eastern shore, the zone would end at the mouth of Julington Creek in St. Johns County.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed yesterday to propose the change by March. Final rules are scheduled to be ready in July.

The new proposals, which were quickly criticized by a city official, are part of a deal announced yesterday between the federal government and 18 environmental groups led by the Save the Manatee Club. The groups sued three years ago to get tougher enforcement of laws protecting manatees, endangered mammals that frequent Florida waters. An annual census this month counted 2,861.

New restrictions will also be proposed in the Halifax and Tomoka rivers in Volusia County and the Caloosahatchee River in Lee County.

Federal officials additionally agreed to increase scrutiny of the environmental impacts of new dock construction, but said they would try to limit the time agencies spend reviewing permit requests.

Anticipating opposition from boating and development interests, federal officials cast the settlement as one that would benefit Floridians in the long run.

"We have done the right thing for the people of Florida and one of its best natural resources. . . . We need the cooperation of the people of the state," said Craig Manson, assistant secretary of the U.S. Interior Department.

Sam Hamilton, Fish and Wildlife's southeastern regional director, said some restrictions may be relaxed in the future if the new protections prove successful.

Boating restrictions have been a contentious issue in Duval County for years, and the settlement outlined yesterday simply reopens the debate. …

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