In the October 18th meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, the Board voted unanimously to further pursue the recommendations made by the Pinellas County Boating Access Task force.
In May of this year Pinellas County assembled a Boating Access Task Force in response to concern over economic trends that were threatening the future of boating access within the county. The issue has been brought to the forefront by the conversion or pending conversion of several marina properties to residential uses resulting in the loss of public access for boat storage and water access. Several of those conversions have been in Clearwater. For example, the High and Dry Marina and Ross Yachts, both on Island Estates and Clearwater Bay Marine Ways adjacent to the Seminole boat ramp have all been purchased by developers with the intent of converting the property to condominiums.
The purpose of the Task Force was to identify the obstacles to boating access, help identify innovative and effective strategies for sustaining and enhancing public boating access, develop recommendations for consideration on how to best implement changes that came out of the 2005 legislative session and to encourage boating interests to be partners with local governments on possible solutions to this problem.
The Task Force, chaired by County Commissioner Susan Latvala was comprised of boaters, representatives of environmental organizations, and other persons having marine interests.
The conversions of boat slips in 2005 alone have cost the county 341 wet slips and 960 dry slips. However, registrations in the county continue to increase. In 1995 there were approximately 45,000 boat registered in the county. That number increased to over 55,000 by the end of fiscal year 2004. Pinellas County has the most boats registered of any county in Florida.
The Task Force identified six potential boating access sites for either development or expansion: War Veteran's County Park; the Belleair Boat Ramp; Travatine Island, a spoil island off of Park Boulevard; Hurricane Hole adjacent to and owned by St. Petersburg College; a site near the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport; Honeymoon Island State Park near Dunedin and the Stauffer Superfund site in Tarpon Springs. Only one site, Honeymoon Island State Park, was taken off the recommended list of sites because the site has more extensive environmental and traffic congestion issues and had the most opposition from neighboring communities.
Since the County has very little waterfront in its un-incorporated areas, it will be important to develop partnerships and agreements with local municipalities if a plan is to be effective. Additionally, the County is willing to look at partnerships with commercial operators of marinas with the County possibly purchasing additional waterfront and having the commercial entity operate the facility.
Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with the development of short and long term strategies to help keep Pinellas County boaters afloat.
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