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No-wake zones are the focus Thursday

Rowing crew on Hillsborough River
[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
A crew rows in the Seddon Channel on Monday in one of many seasonal no-wake zones of the Hillsborough River. Will a public workshop Thursday “get everyone on the same page” about the zones, as a Tampa marine sergeant hopes? Or will it stir up as much of a chop as a WaveRunner going full bore?

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 6, 2002


The City Council plans a chat with all sides of the issue, including state officials, who approve the zones.

There's nothing like no-wake zones on the Hillsborough River to whip up currents of controversy and confusion.

The City Council will hold a public workshop Thursday to address a slew of issues about the half-dozen or so zones between the river mouth and reservoir dam that seem to satisfy no one.

One big problem: The Tampa Police Department isn't sure which zones to enforce. Some have won approval from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which has the final say over them. Some haven't.

"Hopefully with this workshop we can get everyone on the same page," said Sgt. Alan Draffin, who heads the police marine patrol.

That might be wishful thinking.

Interest groups with a long history of conflict will be well represented. Boaters, crew teams, riverside residents and personal-watercraft enthusiasts all have different takes on the need for no-wake zones and where they should go.

Sylvia Espinola, who leads the Hillsborough River Technical Advisory Committee, a group that makes recommendations on river management, said she got a flier in her mailbox two weeks ago that mentioned the workshop and warned of attempts to limit boaters' rights.

On the other hand, students from the University of Tampa and several high schools, including Plant High in South Tampa, are expected to push for expanded zones and better enforcement to protect crew teams.

"It's easy for a wake of any sort to swamp the (crew boat) shells," said Margaret Gandy, the faculty sponsor for the Plant team. "I want my kids to be safe."

City officials want guidance from the state.

Last summer, in response to concerns from crew teams and some Harbour Island residents, the City Council approved a no-wake zone from the Platt Street bridge to the southern tip of Harbour Island. But in October, officials with the conservation commission nixed the idea, saying it didn't meet state safety criteria for new zones.

They will be present Thursday to offer an explanation.

"We're just looking for their guidance on what they will approve," said City Attorney Jim Palermo.

Other zones may be a wash, too.

Managers at Tampa Waterside Marriott have called Tampa police to report boaters ignoring the no-wake sign on the Franklin Street bridge, Draffin said. But the sign isn't backed by state approval.

"We had to explain that this is not a recognized no-wake zone," Draffin said.

Another zone, the one between the bridges on Columbus Drive and North Boulevard, may be reviewed because of complaints from boaters that it does not meet state criteria, Draffin said.

On Thursday, the council is expected to discuss whether a formal process is needed to review requests for new zones.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in council chambers, third floor, City Hall, 315 E Kennedy Blvd.

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com .

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