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Manatee activists seek marina ban

Environmental groups are upset that permits were approved for 180 boat slips in Naples.

By CRAIG PITTMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2000


Angered about permits for a new Naples marina, a coalition of environmental groups went to court Tuesday seeking to block the Army Corps of Engineers from approving new marina projects in areas where manatees are at risk from boat traffic.

If granted, the temporary injunction would block projects in 16 counties, including Pinellas, Hillsborough and Citrus.

Four months ago, the same coalition of 19 groups, including the Save the Manatee Club, the Sierra Club and the Florida Audubon Society, filed lawsuits in Washington and Tallahassee against the corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, accusing them of failing to protect manatees from extinction.

Manatees have been on the endangered species list for more than 30 years. The highest number of manatees ever counted in Florida was 2,639 in 1996.

Last year a total of 268 manatees died, a record 82 of them killed by watercraft. Already this year 100 manatees have died, 32 of them after being hit by boats -- more than a 40 percent increase over this time last year.

Yet two weeks ago, the corps issued permits to Naples Bay Development Inc. to build a marina with 180 new boat slips in an area deemed a critical manatee habitat. Environmental activists contend that the corps allowed the developer to circumvent complying with the Endangered Species Act by paying $450 per slip, an accusation that corps officials deny.

When the environmental groups found out about the permit during negotiations over the lawsuit, they were "perturbed," said Judith Vallee, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club. "We felt we couldn't sit around and wait until other projects are authorized this way. We're going backward, not forward."

In addition to Pinellas, Hillsborough and Citrus counties, the injunction would cover Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee, Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Indian River, Martin, St. Lucie, Duval and Brevard counties and parts of Volusia, Clay and St. Johns.

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