BY MARCY SHORTUSE - There once was an old channel marker in the middle of the Gasparilla Pass. It was faded, listing far to the side, and had been there for so long no one even really noticed when it quietly disappeared. That marker, though, has now become a bone of contention for many of the residents of the north end of the island.
Two residents in particular, Nancy Erb and Linda Long, say that boats really need to slow down in that area because of the frequent presence of manatees. Right now, since the faded old sign that appeared to bear the faint outline of a “slow speed, minimum wake” sign is gone, homeowners say that boats are speeding through the south bridge area.
While there were some rumors that one of the bridge construction barges had something to do with the sign’s disappearance, that isn’t true. Tropical Storm Isaac did, however.
Kathy Banson-Verrico, the interim executive director for the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority, said she has received some feedback from neighbors about getting the signs replaced but the matter, she said, is not within their jurisdiction. The signs weren’t in any of the pictures the bridge took for their models, nor were they in the “after” pictures and designs.
There was even some speculation as to whether or not the sign ever existed in the first place. Banson-Verrico said she contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about the sign, and they had no knowledge of its existence. They also told Kathy that, if a marker was placed there and they had no record of a marker ever having been there, it could result in someone being arrested and sentenced to an unjustified misdemeanor charge.
“From what I understand, the FWC won’t make it a manatee zone, they said they feel the existing manatee population zones and the manatees are under control,” she said. “There’s actually one area north of here, not far away, where they are trying to take off the zone restriction. They have said they are confident in their manatee plan, and they won’t be adding any new zones in this county.”
She, as have some nearby residents, has also contacted Andy Stevens of the Charlotte County Department of Community Services, Natural Resources Division, where they are working on a new manatee zone program. According to that department, it can take months to finish the process of declaring a new “slow speed” or manatee zone.
This week, though, Verrico-Banson said they had a breakthrough. With photographic evidence that a sign was once there, Charlotte County Public Works remembered the forlorn old sign and said they had it on their list to replace.
“Somehow, some way, it will go back up I think,” Verrico-Banson said. “As far as additional signage, the natural resources department for Charlotte County has all the information, and Andy Stevens is working on a manatee protection plan. It might be that in the future they will receive a manatee speed zone, but it takes time.”
The number to report lost or damaged waterway markers is (866) 405-2869. View More images >>
E-mail (required, but will not display)
Notify me of follow-up comments
Click for a larger view