On Tuesday, December 4, on the first of two readings of an ordinance, Gulfport City Council approved the legal wording for the marking of an existing 100-foot no-anchoring boundary area and the possibility of adding a slow speed, minimum wake zone next to the new mooring field.
A companion resolution that was also approved allows the city to purchase 18 buoys at a cost of about $35,000 to mark the no-anchoring area.
Marking buoys will clearly delineate the no-anchoring buffer located adjacent to the mooring field on all four sides, said Marina Director Denis Frain. This buffer area that is already permitted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) provides a greater incentive for sailors to rent mooring balls because the field is closer to shore versus anchoring further out into Boca Ciega Bay.
By using lasers that measure distances, law enforcement officials are currently enforcing the no anchor buffer zone without the aid marker buoys.
“Three boats have been moved since the inception of the mooring field,” said Frain. The ribbon cutting for the opening of the field was held on Sunday, November 18.
The resolution also allows city staff to proceed with a permitting process through the FWC that, if approved, would create a slow speed, minimum wake zone between the field and the beach swimming area, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
The estimated cost of the permitting process that includes a usage survey is $15,000, said Frain.
The slow speed zone would be marked with the same buoys used for the no-anchoring buffer area by affixing additional signage stickers, said Frain.
For safety reasons, “we’re looking to slow the boats down in a 40- to 50-yard open space” located near shore, said Frain. “We have a lot of kayakers in the area and dinghies coming from the mooring field into the Casino dock” in the traffic pattern where boats traverse between Williams Pier and the Recreation Center.
Frain said his greatest concern is focused on boats coming from the south end of Boca Ciega Bay that traverse through the mooring field at a high rate of speed to get to the Casino dock.
“We are charging people to be on the mooring field and it’s a quality of life issue” if people are getting on or off their boat, said Frain. There are now 25 moorings in a condensed area.
The approval votes on the ordinance and resolution were not unanimous.
“I thought we were finished with expenditures on the mooring field,” said Councilmember Dan Liedtke. These are new costs that “I didn’t anticipate – I didn’t know was coming.”
Liedtke opposed both measures specifically questioning the need and cost of establishing a slow speed, minimum wake zone. He reasoned that boats approaching the Casino pier have always caused wake in the area where boats have traditionally anchored near the shore of Gulfport and so too has the weather.
“There are more waves from the wind than there is from an occasional boat so I don’t know that we’re really accomplishing anything by making an open bay a no-wake zone,” said Liedtke. “I have a hard time justifying the cost.”
When questioned by Liedtke, Frain said there have been no safety incidents to date related to wake and moored boats near the coastline of Gulfport.
After a clarification exchange with Frain, Liedtke said, “I’m OK with marking the 100-foot no-anchor boundary zone around the field. I have issues with the no wake zone” because the facility has only been open one month.
Liedtke said to Frain, “Maybe if we have issues down the road that you can demonstrate to us need to pursue the no wake but that’s a long drawn out process and I guarantee you it’s more than $15,000 if FWC has to have an open comment period.”
If the two needs for new buoys could be split into separate measures, Liedtke said he would support the marking of the no-anchor buffer area. Otherwise, “I have to vote no on everything.”
Councilmember Michael Fridovich, the main proponent of the creation of the mooring field said, “I look at this as we just spent all this money on a pair of shoes, now we’re arguing over whether we’re going to pay for the shoe laces.”
According to city documentation, the total projected cost of regulatory buoys and the entire permitting process is $53,972.
In a meeting on August 15, 2017, the Gabber reported that councilmembers approved a mooring field budget totaling $228,000. Of this, $50,000 was allocated from the city budget while $78,000 was from the city’s BP settlement funds and the remaining $100,000 would be from Pinellas County BP settlement funds.