FWC denies group’s King’s Bay petition

-A A +A
By Abdon Sidibe


CRYSTAL RIVER — A citizen’s group bent on reversing what itconsiders a “federal seizure” of sovereign Florida waters could have been the author of the old adage — if at first you do not succeed, try, try again.

Save Crystal River Inc. has run into another hurdle in its efforts to rescind the new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) rules governing waterborne activities: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Concervation Commission (FWC) has rejected the group’s petition to revisit the agency’s cooperative agreement with USFWS.

Wednesday, Mac Williams, a spokesman for Save Crystal River, said he is going to resubmit the petition Thursday — this time to the FWC commissioners and not to the administrative staff whom he accuses of misinterpreting the group’s petition intentions.

Meanwhile, Pat Rose, head of the Save the Manatee Club, praised the actions of FWC officials and asserted his pleas for cooperation with Citrus County politicians have fallen on deaf ears and he is tired of it.

In a petition denial dated April 26, FWC said Save Crystal River’s request to include language that says, “It is not the intent of the (Florida) Legislature to permit the commission (FWC) to post and regulate boat speeds generally throughout the waters of the state, thereby unduly interfering with the rights of fishers, boaters, and water skiers using the areas for recreational and commercial purposes” and to state an understanding that state law enforcement is prohibited from enforcing federal rules in federally-designated manatee refuges were not “appropriate” for inclusion in FWC’s cooperative agreement with USFWS, which was inked in 2001.

The FWC denial order also said the group’s contention that King’s Bay waters are “solely regulated” by federal authorities was not correct. And that in fact, local and state law enforcement continue to function in the bay to ensure public safety.

Williams said FWC’s lawyers misinterpreted his group’s goals, which he said is simple — to prevent the seizure of state waters by federal authorities by using “arbitrary and capricious” means to draw lines.

“The tenor in 2012 is that the FWC commissioners are on our side and they are the ones we are going to deal with from now on, and not the staff,” Williams said.

Save Crystal River already had unanimous resolutions from the Crystal River City Council and the Citrus County Commission in support of their efforts to change the terms of the FWC/USFWS pact.

Crystal River City Attorney George Angeliadis counseled against inclusion in the city’s resolution of support, the very language FWC used in its denial order. The City Council rejected his counsel.

Rose, of Save the Manatee Club, said politicians in the county have become “vindictive.”

“Hallelujah to FWC for recognizing the craziness of all of this,” Rose said.

“They (the politicians) want to make USFWS to pay so bad for passing these rules that they will follow a bunch of people — a minority, by the way — down this road of no compromise. The frustrating thing for me remains that most of these people were in support of slow speed and all the rules recently made by USFWS. It’s the hypocrisy that is disappointing,” Rose said.

Rose is referring to a city council resolution from 2007 which states, among other things, that while progress was made in restoring the Florida manatee, this progress is threatened by boat collisions and that the collisions could be reduced by imposing a year-round slow-speed zone in the waters of King’s Bay. It also said the city was transmitting the report to the USFWS and Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife for consideration of a year-round slow-speed zone in King’s Bay. 

The council at the time included the current Mayor Jim Farley, former Mayor Ron Kitchen, who is now a councilman, and Maureen McNiff, who is also a sitting council member.

Councilman Kitchen said last year, the aim of the 2007 resolution was strictly to transmit what the Waterfront Advisory Board recommended and “was in no way an endorsement of those ideas.”

Mayor Farley, who also voted for the 2007 resolution, said current ideas about government intrusion are what is driving his opposition to the plan. 

“In 2007, we thought we were trying to address speeding in the bay, but this rule is a massive overreach. It’s a federal takeover of our waterways and also a property rights issue for me,” said Farley last year.

Chronicle reporter A.B. Sidibe can be reached at 352-564-2925 or asidibe@chronicleonline.com.