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State denies federal manatee sanctuaries

To avoid overlapping zones that might be confusing, the state says it will mark the Blue Water's sanctuaries.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 24, 2002

HOMOSASSA SPRINGS -- Arguing that overlapping state and federal manatee sanctuaries at the Homosassa Blue Waters would create a navigational hazard, the state has denied the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permission to install signs marking the federal sanctuaries that were set to start Oct. 1.

That means sanctuaries in the Blue Waters may not be in effect until mid November.

The move is the latest in a series of confusing maneuvers regarding manatee protections in the Blue Waters and other sites around the state. Working out the details are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Both agencies were sued by the Save the Manatee Club. The settlements they reached compel both agencies to devise new manatee protections statewide, including the Blue Waters, which is the area of the river directly outside the boundaries of the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park near the river's headwaters.

On Friday, the federal agency posted public notice in the Federal Register stating its plan to create the Blue Waters sanctuary beginning Oct. 1. In mid September, the state agency agreed to place a different sanctuary in the Blue Waters effective Nov. 15.

"The federal zone in combination with the state zone would apparently leave a very narrow corridor between the no-entry zones. Because the USFWS did not supply sufficient information regarding the location of their proposed boundaries, it is impossible to determine how wide this corridor would be or if, in fact, there is any corridor at all," the state's division of law enforcement wrote in a Sept. 16 letter to David Hankla, who oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services operation in Jacksonville.

"Also, because the federal and state seasonal zones have different dates, additional signs would be needed and boater confusion is virtually assured," the letter states. "For all of the above reasons we do not believe the plan as submitted should be permitted."

Capt. Alan Richard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission boating safety and waterway management coordinator, said boaters would be confused by the regulations.

"What we said was the signs they were proposing to set up don't cut the mustard. They set up a sign plan considering only their own rules," Richard said. "The zones overlap or are adjacent to other zones. . . . That won't cut it."

The letter also notes that the state has met with federal officials and Save the Manatee Club representatives to get the federal manatee sanctuary plan dropped.

Chuck Underwood, a Fish and Wildlife spokesman, said his agency will work out the configuration of manatee protections at the Blue Waters and elsewhere.

"On the plus side, the state says that they're going to go ahead with their plan" and post the state sanctuaries by Nov. 15, Underwood said. "So there will still be protection for the manatees."

The state's planned sanctuary is "not a perfect zone for the Blue Waters, but it will take care of a majority of the concerns," said Pat Rose, director of government relations for Save the Manatee.

-- Staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report.

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