No consensus on boat ban behind resort
By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
CLEARWATER -- It's the naked, the drunken and the rowdy they're after.
But city commissioners couldn't agree Monday on a proposal that could ban all boaters from anchoring at the popular weekend party spot behind Shephard's resort on Clearwater Beach. Aimed at quelling behavior that City Manager Bill Horne has described as "lawless," the measure targets the shallows between the Adam's Mark Hotel and the Clearwater Pass bridge. It would prohibit boats from dropping anchor within 150 feet of shore but would include designated channels to allow boats in and out.
Concerns about safety and liability dominated early talks, and commissioners are expected to revisit the issue Thursday during a 6 p.m. meeting in City Hall.
On Monday, Commissioner Hoyt Hamilton objected to the proposal because it would force boaters into deep water, closer to the swift-running channel. Mostly, he worried that people would try to swim ashore in the dangerous current.
"I don't want to put people in harm's way," Hamilton said.
Clearwater police and county sheriff's deputies pushed for the measure, telling commissioners that they don't have enough bodies to patrol the area effectively.
"It's like a Chinese checkers board out there," said Jim Coats, chief deputy in the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "It's willy nilly the way the boats anchor up."
Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein said his department had tried stepping up enforcement, to no avail.
"Enforcement is not the answer here," he said. "Regulation is."
But Hamilton wouldn't budge.
"I respectfully disagree," he said. "I think this is an enforcement issue."
Hamilton said he would support the measure only as a last resort.
On Monday, commissioners insisted that they didn't want to be fun-stealers.
But the offshore antics have them worried.
Every weekend, crowds descend on the area, especially in warm weather and on holidays, when the numbers explode. Area condo and hotel owners complain about overrun beaches, and police say they endure resistance and obscenities.
Sometimes they get blasted with heavy-duty squirt guns.
"You name it," Klein said. "We've seen it."
Mayor Brian Aungst said he toured the area in a boat last week and could support the 150-foot ban.
"It's really not that far," he said. "I think it's probably reasonable."
Commissioner Bill Jonson stopped short of backing the measure, which would require approval from the state, but he agreed that the city must take action.
Commissioner Frank Hibbard echoed Hamilton's concerns about safety and questioned the city's liability in case of accidents.
Vice Mayor Whitney Gray suggested looking for a way to restrict alcohol consumption in the area.
Horne told commissioners he was out of ideas.
"This may not be the perfect solution," he said. "But right now, we cannot come up with a better one."
But Jim White, a 31-year-old mechanic from Belleair, said the proposal would create more problems than it would solve.
He predicted that smart boaters would ignore the restriction rather than get tangled up in a dangerous current.
"It rips out of there," he said. "I'd rather pay the ticket."
White, who spends nearly every weekend at the popular mooring spot, called the proposed restriction "ridiculous."
"They need to crack down on people who can't handle their beer," he said. "Shoot, we might as well all move over to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait if they're going to tell us all what to do."
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