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Date of Issue: December 31, 2008

Boaters sail into '09 with big hopes

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The city of Bradenton Beach wants to create an official mooring field on the bayside. A plan is in the works. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Paul and Jessica Findley tied their dinghy to a dock near the Historic Bridge Street Pier and gathered up beach chairs, towels and sunscreen for a holiday on the beach.

The Findleys sailed to Bradenton Beach Dec. 24, the fifth day of a 12-day boating adventure — their version of the 12 days of Christmas.

And they hope to return year after year.

“We’d like to be out here all the time, on the water,” said Paul Findley, a retiree from Ford Motor Co. and part-time resident of Naples. “Florida is a great place to boat.”

But, he added, Florida governments are not always friendly to boaters, and public access to the water has declined in recent years due to waterfront development and the privatization of marinas.

“The liveaboard life could be put on the endangered species list,” said Marietta Hartley of St. Petersburg. Hartley sailed into Bradenton Beach on Dec. 23 for a short visit. “The condo dwellers like to read mysteries about liveaboards, but they don’t like the reality of them.”

Findley and Hartley said they are aware of Bradenton Beach’s effort to improve its boating amenities and create an official mooring field. The city, in partnership with Scheda Ecological Associates of Tampa, currently is at work on a master recreational boating plan.

“I hope it will be a big welcome,” Hartley said.

The planning will be paid for mostly with a $39,200 grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The project is not new. The city already has conducted research, surveys and studies that Scheda will use to develop the master boating plan.

Earlier this year, city officials met with boaters to discuss the planning process and survey their interest in participating. City officials also met with citizens at Herb Dolan Park to discuss creating a kayak launch at the site.

The planning process involves analyzing the existing city data and research, such as mapping, depths and bathymetry studies; conducting any new engineering research to create a base map for a managed anchorage and mooring field; preparing plans and permit applications for markers and buoys; designing signage for the mooring area; drafting a job description for a harbor master; and writing a final plan for the city to adopt and the state to approve.

Like Bradenton Beach, Gulfport and St. Augustine are working on master boating plans, according to Dianne Rosensweig, Scheda’s branch manager in Sarasota.

A number of other Florida localities already have master plans and established mooring fields, including Key West in 2005, Fort Myers Beach in 2004, Marathon Boot Key in 2002, Stuart in 2001 and Vero Beach in 1988.

Boater Hank Wilmer, who estimated he spends six months of the year on the water, said some cities were more successful than others.

 “Some are too expensive, beyond affordable for a lot of boaters,” said Wilmer, who vacationed around Anna Maria Island in December. “People think if you are a liveaboard you are one of two things — really rich or pretty poor, but a lot of us are just middle-class people.”

One of Wilmer’s favorite mooring sites is Vero Beach.

Boaters seeking transient docking and mooring registration in Vero Beach can make reservations on the Internet or by phone.

The rates vary depending on the size of the boat, the length of a stay and the amenities sought — permanent mooring is $309 per month, the monthly liveaboard fee is $47, a facilities key deposit is $15, monthly electric service is $57-$188 for transient dockers and cable TV is included.

Vero Beach’s operation is city-run, while Fort Myers Beach contracts with a concessioner. Another option is to establish a not-for-profit entity to oversee the harbor, according to “Anchoring (and Mooring) Away: Government Regulation and the Rights of Navigation in Florida.”

Tom Ankersen created the review of boating and harbor management plans for the Conservation Clinic at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Ankersen’s review of existing facilities provides an overview of issues Bradenton Beach will address as it writes its plan in 2009 — establishing fees, establishing the number of moorings, the hiring of personnel and assigning oversight responsibilities.

Fort Myers Beach has 70 moorings with fees based on the size of the boat and the length of stay. The operation is a privately managed concession under a contract with the city. Facilities include dinghy docks, rest rooms and garbage disposal.

Vero Beach has 57 moorings, also with varying fees that are used to pay for a fueling service, waste pump-out facility and rest rooms.

The city has hired a harbormaster, who lives on sight, and an assistant harbormaster, as well as part-time employees.

An advisory board helps with oversight of the mooring field and an established enterprise fund raises money for the operation.

“A well planned and executed managed anchorage and mooring field can be beneficial to residents, boaters and the local government by encouraging tourism and providing for the efficient use of waterfront resources to enhance public access to the marine environment,” Ankersen said.

The state has the highest number of registered boaters in the nation, about 980,000, who contribute about $16 billion to the state economy, according to the FWC.