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    Hearings to begin Monday on speed in manatee waters

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 7, 2002

    State regulators will hold public hearings around the Tampa Bay area in the next two weeks on rules that will put the brakes on fast boating in the Alafia River, Homosassa River and Terra Ceia Bay.

    Designed to reduce collisions with manatees, the rules have been tentatively approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    The rules cover new speed zones and other regulations in the Alafia in Hillsborough County and Terra Ceia Bay in Manatee County and new no-entry zones in the Blue Waters section of the Homosassa River in Citrus County.

    The public hearings will take place:

    In Hillsborough County at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the East Bay High School Auditorium in Gibsonton.

    In Manatee County at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the County Administration Building's board chamber room at 1112 Manatee Ave. W in Bradenton.

    And in Citrus County at 5:30 p.m. July 17 at the Lecanto Government Building, Room 166, 3600 W Sovereign Path in Lecanto.

    The new restrictions were prompted by the settlement of a lawsuit last year accusing the state of not doing enough to protect manatees from speeding boats.

    But boating groups contend that the increase in manatee deaths is not the fault of the state's 900,000 boaters as much as it is a byproduct of the manatees' burgeoning population. The current population is now estimated at more than 3,000, more than double the estimates made 30 years ago when the manatee was first classified as endangered.

    For more information, including maps of the proposed speed zones, check on the Web at http://floridaconservation.org/ psm/Opus/PublicHearings/PublicHearings.htm.

    After the public hearings this month, the commission will take a final vote on the restrictions in September.

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