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Date of Issue: August 20, 2008

County acts to protect Bean Point swimmers

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A walkway takes beachgoers to Bean Point in Anna Maria. A sign warns them to swim at their own risk, but Manatee County officials acted last week to make swimming on the north end of the Island safer by approving the elimination of a swash channel in the area. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Bean Point swimmers will find waters safer if an ordinance approved Aug. 12 by the Manatee County commission passes a state review.

The commission approved a boating safety measure, which includes changes on waters throughout the county, in a 4-2 vote. Commissioners Gwen Brown, Donna Hayes, Amy Stein and Jane von Hahmann voted yes, and Commissioners Joe McClash and Carol Whitmore voted no. Commissioner Ron Getman was not present for the vote.

The commission split on the ordinance was primarily over a slow-speed, minimum-wake zone on the Manatee River in downtown Bradenton — from west of the Green Bridge to 1,000 feet west of the DeSoto Bridge and just east of the CSX railroad trestle. McClash and Whitmore said the restriction, supported by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, went too far.

The ordinance changes for the Island area brought fewer comments than the slow-speed zone on the river.

At the north end of Anna Maria Island, the ordinance will eliminate the swash channel for boaters between Bean Point and a nearby sandbar.

This change was the result of a petition from residents in Anna Maria, as well as city officials, who said boating in the area threatens the safety of swimmers.

“There really is a conflict between boaters and swimmers,” said county coastal programs manager Bill O’Shea, referring to boats that currently travel at about 25 mph through the channel at the same time that swimmers head out for the sandbar.

Under the new ordinance, O’Shea said boaters will be required to travel at slow, minimum-wake speed.

McClash said when the swash channel was designated it was at a greater distance from the shore.

“There was good intention,” he said. “But this channel is almost on the beach now.”

McClash went on to speculate that in a few years the beach, which appears to be building, might reach the sandbar.

At Coquina Beach and Manatee Public Beach, the ordinance will widen the public swimming areas from 300 feet to 400 feet from shore and prohibit vessels within those areas.

O’Shea said when county crews went to place buoys at 300 feet out at the public beaches, they realized “we had a much smaller swim area” than lifeguards had thought.

So, O’Shea said, the revised ordinance will expand the zone and specifically ban vessels from the swim area.

“Historically our beaches have been vessel exclusion,” he said.

The ordinance also will establish a slow-speed, minimum-wake zone at the south end of the Cortez Bridge.

“This is to correct a gap,” O’Shea said. “For the most part, people have always assumed this area is slow speed, but to clean it up we wanted to close that gap.”

The ordinance also will create slower speeds on the Braden River at the Evers Reservoir, where neighbors have complained about noise generated by airboats.

The ordinance was developed to promote safety for people, not the result of manatee protection efforts, O’Shea noted.

The ordinance requires a review by the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

O’Shea said the update of the ordinance “has been in the works for a long time,” going back to the fall of 2006, when the county decided to address complaints about airboats.