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Council approves ordinance to lower speed on Estero Bay

By Staff | Mar 18, 2020

John Russo of the Waterside Dock Association off Bay Beach Lane, looks out to the manatee zone of Estero Bay. NATHAN MAYBERG

The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council took the first step in getting the manatee zone changed back to a no-wake zone by approving a first-reading of an ordinance to send to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The FWC will ultimately have to approve the change in boat speeds.

“This ordinance is the first step of many that would allow us to try to regain as much of that vessel speed control as possible. It’s a precursor for us to go to FWC to make our case for watercraft safety here on Fort Myers Beach,” Town Manager Roger Hernstadt told the town council at its last meeting March 13.

Hernstadt referenced how the county changed the speed for the manatee zone from no-wake to 25 mph from November through April last year. “The criteria changed and the places where people are used to having protection of other speed zones were no longer eligible.”

Residents of Bay Beach Lane have complained that the increased boat speed in the manatee zone on Estero Bay has caused stronger wakes which have led to boater safety issues, damaged the docks of the Waterside Dock Association, caused soil erosion, threatened manatees and led to a disappearance of dolphins in the area near their development.

Hernstadt said some areas around the beach will require studies to “gain control of vessel speed.”

Councilmember Rexann Hosafros said expectations will need to be lowered in town because “it’s not going to be easy” to get the FWC to approve what the town wants and “it’s not going to be fast.”

Town attorney John Herin Jr. said that if the town wants to establish an idle-speed zone, there are some limitations based on what state law requires, per conversations he has had with FWC.

Councilmember Bruce Butcher asked if the town would do a manatee study. Hernstadt said that would be done in order to reclaim the lost territory regarding its jurisdiction of boating speeds.

A second reading on the ordinance will be held on April 6.