FWC Proposes to Change River Regulations

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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:


  1. Whether the activity will adversely affect the public health, safety, welfare or the property of others;

  2. Whether the activity will adversely affect the conservation of fish and wildlife, including endangered or threatened species, or their habitats;

  3. Whether the activity will adversely affect navigation or the flow of water or cause harmful erosion or shoaling;

  4. 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;

  5. Whether the activity will be of a temporary or permanent nature;

  6. Whether the activity will adversely affect or will enhance significant historical and archaeological resources under the provisions of S. 267.061; and

  7. 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.”

Charles W. Roberts III http://myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/senior-staff/contact-commissioners/roberts/
Aliese P. “Liesa” Priddy http://myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/senior-staff/contact-commissioners/priddy/
Ronald M. Bergeron http://myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/senior-staff/contact-commissioners/bergeron/
Adrien Bo Rivard http://myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/senior-staff/contact-commissioners/rivard/
Richard A. Corbett http://myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/senior-staff/contact-commissioners/corbett/
Brian S. Yablonski http://myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/senior-staff/contact-commissioners/yablonski/
Richard Hanas http://myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/senior-staff/contact-commissioners/hanas/


To email all the Commissioners at one time go to this website:

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  1. Some erosion is natural & can be expected and planned for. Intentionally, accelerating that erosion by not setting “no wake” speeds, is just foolish. Part of the responsibility of those of us who live in these areas is to be active Stewards in protecting the eco-systems that support the rivers and springs. When the rivers are up, we need to be respectful and diligent about, both protecting property and the fragile ecology, already compromised by high water levels. WE DO expect, plan and prepare for flooding!! What we don’t expect is some dummy running the river at high speeds when there’s all sorts of debris, displaced and submerged animals (Manatees)animals, and fallen trees moving down the river as well. Why not SLOW DOWN while the rivers are high?

  2. I disagree with your position on this. As far as erosion the entire river exists because of erosion. Erosion is taking place in a river every second of every day. I understand the property owners wanting to protect their property but in many areas the river levels have to be extremely high to even effect them. Much higher than where the no wake levels are now at least between Hollingsworth and the 441 bridge. Furthermore choosing to live near a river means dealing with flooding.

    1. FLa Outstanding Waters are protected under law from man-made actions which are not natural, such as boat wakes. Dealing with flooding is one thing, large waves from heavy boats is another unnecessary one.

    2. there are 4 zones they are implementing during high water times, they want to raise the trigger for a no wake. All of the users and residents said they wanted the trigger lowered as it is during high water that the larger vessels enter the waters and open up. During those times the extra wake is where we are seeing damage to the shorelines. Flooding is not the issue we are taking on here. It is how vessels are being used.

    3. The most complaints we receive are from residents on the lower, lower Santa Fe River between the confluence of the Suwannee River and Ichetucknee River (that will be named zone 8). Floaters, kayaks, canoes and swimmers being swamped by large vessels that do not slow down.

    4. flotsam and jetsam is also a very real concern for everyone that uses the Santa Fe River and Suwannee River. Nothing worse than being in an accident because of floating debris and anyone that uses the river knows when the water is up or down it is dangerous when driving too fast. We and FWC want safety of people considered in this discussion, in fact, the safety of people appears to be FWC’s only responsibility in this matter. Write comments into the names and addresses we provided on our website attached to this story. One public meeting is not enough to have a real open discussion about how the Santa Fe River (and Suwannee River) are used by recreational boaters. Believe me, the residents know these rivers, it is not just about their docks and trees falling into the river that they are concerned about. Witnessing reckless behavior by motor boaters is extremely disconcerting.

    5. Zone 8 is most heavily used by powerboats due to depth and proximity to the Suwannee but the others? You’d have to be foolish to run any large boat up there. During high water there is so much floating crap you’d have to be especially dumb to do that. I spend a ton of time on the water in zones 4/5/6 and if large boats are out there it’s news to me. It’s also sparsely populated in 4-6 and even during high water the houses are set so far back from the river that boat wakes don’t even come close. I support raising the no wake levels in that area. As far as floaters, kayaks, canoes and swimmers being swamped by wakes that’s a risk you take using any public waterway. I contend that the swimmers and floaters are the most negligent of all groups and spend plenty of time picking up their garbage. Boaters are still responsible for what their wake does to other users within reason. There are plenty of existing laws FWC can enforce in regards to respecting other users and keeping people safe. In all reality there’s not a lot of enforcement by FWC in that area anyway.

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