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Council shows good governing with wake zones

A Times Editorial
Published August 14, 2005

Clearwater City Council members talk often about ways to make the city look more attractive. Aesthetics are important to them.

Yet they recently demonstrated that safety trumps aesthetics when they approved a controversial minimum wake zone along the gulf beaches of Sand Key.

The new zone will be delineated by a long line of vertical buoys anchored 300 feet offshore. Some Sand Key residents had opposed the zone because they felt the line of bobbing buoys would be unattractive along the beautiful shoreline. That argument didn't hold water for a majority of City Council members.

Neither did some other opponents' contention that because there had been no recent collisions between watercraft and swimmers off Sand Key, there was no need for the wake zone and buoy line, which will create a safe swimming area by keeping boats and swimmers separated.

Council members not already convinced of the need for the zone by constituents' phone calls probably were swayed by some photographs residents brought to the Aug. 4 City Council meeting.

The pictures showed boats and personal watercraft passing at speed only feet from swimmers. Several residents who swim off the barrier island told stories about near misses that had frightened them.

That was enough to convince four of the five council members that it was better to be safe than sorry. They approved the zone, which is a relatively low-cost solution - around $20,000 - to the potential hazards along the Sand Key shoreline.

"Potential" was the word that kept council member Hoyt Hamilton from supporting the minimum wake zone. There had been no accidents to prove there was a public safety problem on Sand Key, so the idea of an area to prevent accidents seemed like an overreaction to him. Hamilton, an avid boater, also complained that there are fewer and fewer areas around Pinellas County where people can freely operate their boats. That's a problem, he said, for a waterfront community.

Council members Bill Jonson, Carlen Petersen and John Doran and Mayor Frank Hibbard listened to the opponents' arguments, but were not swayed. They voted for the minimum wake zone.

"I just don't get paid enough in this job to have on my conscience the death of a child" or anyone else, Hibbard said.

How often do we hear that government acts to fix an obvious hazard only after someone is hurt or killed? Approving the minimum wake zone was the right call.

[Last modified August 14, 2005, 00:53:19]

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