Bills Seek To Ban Anchoring in Ortega and Crystal Rivers in Florida
By PETER SWANSON
It looks like the Florida neighborhoods in Jacksonville and Crystal River will soon be joining the tony ranks of San Marino and San Marco islands and Sunset Lake in Miami. Bills are winding their way through the Florida legislature that would effectively ban anchoring in the Ortega River (a tributary of the St. Johns River) and Crystal River on the state’s West Coast.
Both are attractive anchorages because of their locations and shoreside amenities. The Ortega River for example is a short walk to a West Marine, a supermarket and one of the biggest used book stores in the country. There are numerous excellent nearby restaurants. Crystal River also received good reviews by the Noonsite cruisers website:
Crystal River is significantly more protected and “cruising friendly” than Cedar Key as there are no protected marinas for large yachts at Cedar Key… If you are cruising the coast of Florida and you wish to cut the “big” jump outside the ICW down by at least one-third, a stop at Crystal River is a solid option for almost any cruising yacht. Dockage, marinas, and anchorages on the Crystal River and the City of Crystal River are readily available. If the docks seem too small for a cruising yacht, simply anchor off and dinghy in.
The thought of an anchoring ban in these locations is particularly galling for the Great Harbour community. A casual examination of the Ortega chart shows that many spots are too shallow for many cruising craft, and, of course, sailboats cannot get past the second bridge, which has only 45 feet of vertical clearance. Five foot depths, however, are perfectly fine for Great Harbours, which draw less than three feet.
The reason for the legislation is typical. Waterfront property owners are tired of seeking crappy boats in front of their homes, often abandoned or with liveaboard owners who are effectively destitute. As of now, the Ortega and Cedar River neighbors have a less to complaint about, though. As reported earlier this month by the Resident news website:
City of Jacksonville employees had removed a houseboat, a derelict boat and a floating structure from the Ortega River by the second week of December and were moving forward with removing a fourth on the south side across from Stinson Park, said Jim Suber, waterways coordinator and dockmaster for the City of Jacksonville. The houseboat and structure were taken out of the water completely, and the other derelict vessel was towed to the Wayne B. Stevens boat ramp pending permanent removal. Because it was dragging anchor, it was a safety concern. The fourth vessel was under investigation.
Removing the boats and structures was costly and time consuming. Suber said the city pays anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000 to remove each vessel and must wait at least 21 days after notifying owners about pending removal. In the case of the boat dragging anchor, officials were in the second round of a 21-day wait after learning of a new owner. And, in the case of the floating structure, the city had to get a court order from a judge for its removal, he said. The city paid for removal with state funds drawn from vessel registrations.
The American Great Loop Cruising Association and other boating groups oppose any blanket ban on anchoring for reasons not fully appreciated by local landowners. “The key message to get across is that passing SB 606 punishes all boaters by taking away their freedom to anchor because of the actions of a few who are in violation of existing laws,” said Kim Russo, AGLCA executive director. “Laws are already in place to prevent littering, sewage discharge, and derelict vessels. Those should be enforced before new laws are passed.”
The mechanism under bills filed in both houses of the Florida Legislature is simply to amend an existing Florida law to include the Ortega and Crystal river areas. If passed, the new law would become effective on July 1, 2020. This from an analysis associated with HB 417 and SB 606:
Section 327.4108 F.S., designates three “anchoring limitation areas” that are characterized as “densely populated urban areas, which have narrow state waterways, residential docking facilities, and significant recreational boating traffic.” These anchoring limitation areas include: