Madeira Beach Residents Express Concerns Over Speeding Boaters, Water Quality

MADEIRA BEACH — Speeding boaters and the behavior of people who live on boats have become a concern of residents, Community Development Director Linda Portal said at the April 23 City Commission workshop meeting.

After hearing requests from the public to address those issues, Portal presented the city’s findings and response.

The two key issues, Portal said, are the enforcement of speed limits, especially in no-wake zones, and the regulation of “liveaboards,” which impact water quality.

These are also common problems elsewhere, and Madeira Beach’s regulations are similar to or stronger than those of other communities locally and throughout the country, Portal said.

The city regulations can only be enforced within the city boundaries, Portal said.

A major problem area for speeding is on the edge of John’s Pass Avenue, where boaters open up their speed coming out of the no-wake zone. Portal said the speeds “pick up pretty dramatically” when boaters enter the area.

The city can regulate liveaboards within city limits, and the county can enforce its regulations within 1,000 feet of county park. The problem is in areas north of the city boundaries and outside of county park limits. That is a “no-man’s land where most of the liveaboards congregate” because they know there will be no enforcement of regulations, Portal said.

The concerns from residents center on the dangers to boaters, people such as kayakers, and marine life resulting from speeding boats. And water quality issues from liveaboards who dump their waste into the water rather than having it pumped out.

In a memorandum on waterway regulations, Portal said the city faces two challenges “in strengthening or even implementing the current code.”

The first is that the state regulates boating in a way that limits the circumstances under which local authorities can be more restrictive. Also, “the city has no boat or assigned marine officer and cannot implement its restricted access or speed regulations except by signage/markers.”

Commissioner Deby Weinstein said the state “might be open to expanding the no-wake zone.”

Commissioner Doug Andrews said the purchase of a pump-out boat would help improve water quality among the liveaboards. The city has had several opportunities to get a pump-out boat, with a significant portion paid for with a grant, but a previous commission turned it down, Andrews said.

“We should re-apply for that grant,” Andrews said, “because this is not going to get any better.”

A number of residents had concerns about the speed of boaters creating what they said were dangerous high wakes.

Ray Kerr who lives on John’s Pass Avenue said boaters speed by his dock, endangering his children on kayaks or him getting a jetski off the boatlift. “It’s a safety issue,” Kerr said.

William Fleming said the wake of boaters hits and sometimes comes over his seawall. “Sooner or later, it’s going to break the seawall, and someone is going to get hurt,” Fleming said.

Jan Watenpaugh, who lives on Crystal Island Drive, said boaters going fast flipped her kayak over. “I know how to swim,” she said, “but if you get a little kid out there, they’re going to die.”

Armando Castellon said he has been almost run over by boaters while on his kayak.

“Boats come up right behind me without any consideration whatsoever,” he said.

Meg Gordan, who lives on Bay Point Drive, said the waves crashing against her dock are so big “it’s dangerous.”

Safety is the Number One issue, said Patti Spang.

“We don’t want our community to be remembered by a tragic accident here.”

Commissioner John Douthirt said he agreed that “safety has got to be our priority.” “We need to know what we can do to get this fixed,” Douthirt said.

Commissioner Nancy Hodges said she is also a kayaker and has experienced the same situations described by the residents.

“When I go around the corner by John’s Pass Avenue, the wake of the boaters coming in makes me feel like I’m in a washtub,” Hodges said.

Hodges also said getting a pump-out boat would be a great idea to help improve the water quality.

City Manager Jonathan Evans said the city will take steps to deal with the waterway concerns expressed. He said the city staff will compose a letter to be sent to members of the legislative delegation communicating the concerns, and to find out what regulatory agencies can be brought out on-site to see the problems firsthand.

“We want to communicate directly with Tallahassee,” Evans said.

“That is a great idea,” said Mayor Maggi Black.

“Safety is paramount here,” she said.

“It has certainly been an education for us hearing your concerns,” she told residents.