Saturday’s avoidable tragedy brings to the forefront the sad lack of safety enforcement by the only authority on the river, the Fish and Wildlife Commission officers. We do not have all the details of the mishap, but since a head-on collision took place it is safe to say that reckless driving contributed to the accident.
OSFR has two issues with FWC regarding the Santa Fe: one has been safety put at risk from reckless boating and the “no wake” regulation, which was weakened back in 2015, and the other is bank erosion which is caused by passing boats. In 2015 FWC held a series of public meetings for input regarding raising the trigger for employing “no wake” zone.
Residents along the river were nearly unanimous in wanting not less but more stringent regulations governing the “no wake” zones in order to reduce damage to docks, trees and other structures during times of high water. Water washing from boat wakes has an amazing power, and huge oak and cypress trees are felled by this continuous action.
About the only good thing that resulted from these public-input meetings is that the FWC divided the river into zones, which fine tunes the area according to dedicated specifics.
The issue of safety and erosion protection however, has not changed noticeably, and the post below, which we wrote five years ago, is just as relevant today as then. You can read our earlier posts at these links: April 30, 2015, July 7, 20 15, and July 9 2015.)
Now, five years later, the meeting requested below between FWC, DEP and the Suwannee River Water Management District has not taken place, and the FWC continues to blatantly disregard Item. no. 3 below, which is Florida law.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is considering new regulations pertaining to vessel speed during flood events. The major issue will be the river level at which the “no wake” speeds will begin. Two recent public input meetings were held, one at Fanning Springs for the Suwannee River, and on April 29, at O’Leno State Park for the Santa Fe River. Representatives from OSFR and Save our Suwannee were present at both meetings.
Suwannee River Water Management District scientist Tom Mirti explained in detail the proposed changes, which can be measured by using one of two methods: The North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88) or by the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD29). The difference is that a river level of 17.25’ using NAVD 88, would register at 18’ using NGVD 29.
The system chosen to use is totally immaterial, as the bottom line is that the proposed changes would raise the height of the river one foot from what is now before the “no wake” speed limit would be initiated. At both input meetings, the many concerned citizens who spoke were unanimous in wanting the “no wake” levels not raised but lowered. Some suggested a “no wake” river, where these speed limits would be in effect during normal river levels and not just during floods. That indeed is the position of Our Santa Fe River: due to resident and recreational users, we recommend a “no wake” position for the entire length of the lower Santa Fe River from River Rise to the confluence with the Suwannee River.
The citizens’ concerns were for the safety of people on the river and shoreline erosion caused by large vessels which do not obey the speed limits, and for the property of the riparian owners.
The FWC made it clear as to their motive, that they are concerned with only public safety and nothing else, and the statutes are as follows:
68D-24.003 FAC Appropriate boating restricted areas are established for the purpose of regulating the speed and operation of vessel traffic for the safety of the public.
68D-23.101(3) FAC: It is further the intent of this chapter that no boating restricted area be established, continued in effect, or enforced for the purpose of noise abatement or for the protection of shoreline, shore-based structures, or upland property from vessel wake or shoreline wash.”
OSFR takes issue with this as there is absolutely no concern here for the increased erosion of shorelines, detrimental to trees and causing changes to the river course by man-made altering forces unnatural to nature. Seemingly forgotten by our state agency is the fact that both the Suwannee River and the Santa Fe River are designated “OFW’s” and as such fall under special protection, the authority of which is:
Section 403.061(27), Florida Statutes, grants the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the power to establish rules that provide for a special category of waterbodies within the state, to be referred to as “Outstanding Florida Waters,” which shall be worthy of special protection because of their natural attributes.
Activities within an OFW must meet a more stringent public interest test. The activity must be “clearly in the public interest.” In determining whether an activity is not contrary to public interest,DEP or SRWMD must consider and balance the following factors:
Whether the activity will adversely affect the public health, safety, welfare or the property of others;
Whether the activity will adversely affect the conservation of fish and wildlife, including endangered or threatened species, or their habitats;
Whether the activity will adversely affect navigation or the flow of water or cause harmful erosion or shoaling;
Whether the activity will adversely affect the public health, safety, welfare or the Whether the activity will adversely affect the fishing or recreational values or marine productivity in the vicinity of the activity;
Whether the activity will be of a temporary or permanent nature;
Whether the activity will adversely affect or will enhance significant historical and archaeological resources under the provisions of S. 267.061; and
The current condition and relative value of functions being performed by areas affected by the proposed activity.
How much clearer could it be? Number 3 is right there. OSFR believes that FWC and DEP and SRWMD must convene and read the Florida law to coordinate among themselves a ruling which follows that law, that they should consider the public input which they requested, and then lower the levels from the current ones instead of raising them. They must also reconsider their stance as being unaffected by any reason other than human safety and take into account what Florida law says about protecting OFW’s. This includes shoreline erosion and the property of others.
The FWC plans no more public input, and now the recommendation (whatever that will be) will be submitted to the seven commissioners who have been appointed by Governor Scott, not known for his environmental concerns. These commissioners will meet in Sarasota on June, 23, 24, 25 to determine the fate of our outstanding waterways. Below is a list of their names and contact information. They have not requested input, but it might be a good idea if they received some, other than what our local FWC officers might submit. These local officers presume not to be aware of the OFW protection category.
The FWC’s seven commissioners are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate to five-year terms. Their constitutional duty is to exercise the “…regulatory and executive powers of the state with respect to wild animal life and fresh water aquatic life and shall also exercise regulatory and executive powers of the state with respect to marine life, except that all license fees and penalties for violating regulations shall be as provided by law.”
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum