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Date of Issue: June 18, 2008

County updating boating, swimming regs

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Swimmers at Manatee Public Beach enjoy the bathtub temps of the Gulf of Mexico. A proposed change in a Manatee County ordinance would expand the swimming zone at the beach from 300 feet to 400 feet. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

A plan to revise the county’s boating and manatee-protection ordinances could result in some slower speed limits in the waters near Anna Maria Island.

Changes also could result in expanded swimming areas at public beaches.

Manatee County is amending its boating safety and manatee-protection regulations, with a public hearing before the county board of commissioners on Aug. 12, according to Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county’s conservation lands management department.

Changes include the expansion for boaters of the slow speed/minimum-wake zone in Sarasota Bay to the south of the Cortez Bridge and within 750 feet of the bridge, except the Intracoastal Waterway, and within 100 feet of either side of the Intracoastal.

Additionally, the county is considering widening the Coquina Beach and Manatee Public Beach swim areas from 300 feet to 400 feet and prohibiting vessels in the swim zone as opposed to the current minimum-wake zone.

Another proposed change would eliminate the 25-mph channel near Bean Point on the north end of the Island and eliminate the 25-mph channel on the north side of Longboat Pass on the south end of the Island.

About a year ago, a group of Anna Maria residents led by Charlie Daniel called for county action to reduce boating speeds near Bean Point, where people often swim and wade at low tide to a sandbar.

In 2004, the county adopted a boating safety ordinance that provided for a slow/no-wake zone within 300 yards of the shoreline at Bean Point. The ordinance also provided for a speed limit of 25 mph in the channel at Bean Point.

During the public review of the ordinance four years ago, the county received many requests from boaters pushing for the 25-mph speed zone.

When the speed limit was set, the channel along Bean Point from Tampa Bay to the Gulf of Mexico extended several hundred yards from the beach. Now a large sandbar exists, narrowing the channel and forcing boats closer to shore, sometimes within 15 yards.

Daniel has told The Islander that he witnessed some close calls at Bean Point, with boats coming too close to swimmers.

Bill O’Shea, the county’s coastal programs manager, said, “The proposed amendment to the boating safety ordinance does include the elimination of the 25 mph swash channel from the Gulf into Anna Maria Sound. This was largely in response to requests from citizens, the mayor and the Anna Maria Commission.”