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Palm Coast Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015 5 years ago

County works to finish manatee protection plan approval

Federal permitting for facilities with more than five boat slips is on hold until new regulations are enacted.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Flagler County’s manatee protection speed zone on the Intracoastal is slated to get a little bit longer — just half a mile, added near the Lehigh Canal. 

Until new manatee protection regulation happens, though, boat dock permitting for any facilities with more than five slips on the Intracoastal Waterway is on hold, and permits have been suspended by the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Getting things back in order, county staff said, is a matter of dealing wth state and federal bureaucracy.

"We have the draft letter to request the additional half mile zone that we discussed," County Environmental Planner Tim Telfer said at a County Commission workshop Monday, Aug. 17. "We had some additional communication with the state folks, the Fish and Wildlife Commission, about the process for initiating that last half-mile zone. They wanted us to go back and repeat that local review committee process for this additional half mile. That's a little bit problematic for us." 

And it seems unnecessary, Telfer said: Both sides already agreed the additional half mile was necessary, and Flagler County had committed to add it, "So we've had a lot of communication with these entities about the necessity to go through this process again."

Meanwhile, Jim Cullis, president of Grand Haven Realty, found his permits for docks at a planned marina village at the old Lehigh Cement property revoked because of the lacking regulation. He told county commissioners at the workshop that he hopes for an expedited re-permitting process once the new regulation is enacted. 

The holdup surprised some commissioners, who thought everything had already been handled and approved years ago: Flagler County does already have a manatee protection zone; it’s 5.27 miles long.

“We created the zones two or three years ago, and there's been nothing reported in Flagler County as far as manatee deaths since” related to boating, Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said at the workshop.

But the commission on Monday reviewed an 118-page draft manatee protection plan which has already been submitted to federal officials, but hadn’t yet been formally approved by commissioners, some of whom were seeing it for the first time Monday. State and federal agencies also haven't formally approved it, though the county has gotten positive feedback, Telfer said. 

But manatee deaths from boating have not been as much of an issue in Flagler as they have been in counties that are more populous and have more areas that are attractive to manatees, Telfer said.

Between 1976 and 2013, according to the draft protection plan, there have been 83 reported manatee deaths in Flagler County, of which only 19% can be attributed to human causes. There have been 11 manatee deaths attributed to watercraft collision in Flagler County since 1999, an average of 0.69 deaths per year. St. Johns County also had 11 manatee deaths attributed to boating collisions in the same period, while Volusia had 82 and Duval had 75.

Since the county put in its current manatee speed zones in 2012, Telfer said, there have been no manatee deaths in the county attributed to boating. 

Commissioners in a special meeting after the workshop approved a letter to the federal agencies involved stating their good faith in completing the necessary regulation. But they decided, at Commissioner Barbara Revels' urging, to wait to approve the manatee protection plan. 

"For our own education and the public’s ability to speak to it, we should have this up again," Revels said. 

The manatee protection plan will be placed on the agenda for a future meeting. 

“I, like everyone else, thought we had this thing in place," Commissioner George Hanns said. "But they have proven that a local jurisdiction isn't going to lock horns with them, and they proved it by denying permits. So, let’s just do what they want, and get it on. Let's move along."

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