Sans Sunset Cove, state OKs anchoring plan

A pending Monroe County anchoring program has found mostly clear water before the state’s top boating agency.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved Florida Keys rules for the pilot program during its Sept. 5 meeting in Tampa.

Removing Key Largo’s Sunset Cove from the list of new managed anchoring zones proposed by the county was the only significant change required by the FWC board.

FWC staff recommended removing Sunset Cove, on the bayside around mile marker 100, because the overall state anchoring program seeks to provide more local control for areas near existing mooring fields.

The closest approved mooring field to Sunset Cove is Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor, about 50 miles away and on the oceanside.

“I discussed with the FWC commission the benefits that would be provided by the managed anchoring zones, including Sunset Cove,” Monroe County Marine Resources administrator Rich Jones said Friday.

Sunset Cove was included in the county plan at the request of neighboring shore residents. County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, representing the Upper Keys, said problems in Sunset Cove apparently have been resolved by the recent installation of a fence, rather than law.

“Sunset Cove was definitely a problem but all of the problem children seem to have moved on,” Murphy said.

The fence blocks access from the water to a public road. The site had become a noisy and littered gathering spot for some liveaboards. “Now there’s nobody hanging out and drinking there,” she said.

The FWC did not object to managed anchoring zones or narrow no-anchoring buffer zones around mooring fields in Boca Chica Basin, Key West Harbor, Cow Key Channel and Boot Key Harbor.

FWC staff praised aspects of the Monroe County plan that require proof of regular septic pumpout for boats in the areas, and a ban on poorly maintained “pre-derelict” boats that appear in imminent danger of sinking.

“These requirements are designed to protect the marine environment, enhance navigational safety and deter improperly stored, abandoned or derelict vessels,” said Maj. Jack Daugherty of the FWC Boating and Waterways Section.

No boaters from Monroe County appeared at the FWC’s Tampa meeting. Several local comment sessions were held during the planning process.

Jones said he will ask county commissioners at their Sept. 21 meeting for approval to advertise a final hearing Oct. 17. Once adopted by the County Commission, Jones said, “Staff will be working on some marking of the zones, as well as public information regarding the various zones.”

“Once those various elements are implemented, we anticipate enforcement of the ordinance to take effect,” he said.

Under the program approved by the Florida Legislature, Monroe County is one of five state coastal areas allowed create new anchoring rules on a test basis to cover stationary vessels outside existing mooring zones. The rules will expire in 2014 unless extended by the Legislature.

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