Photo: Tiffany Tompkins

“On one side of the Green Bridge in Palmetto sits the Regatta Pointe Marina, where the liveaboard lifestyle is growing and flourishing. Boat owners take care of their vessels, pay their fees and enjoy their ‘homes’ on the water.

On the other side of the bridge, and many other waterways across the state, it’s a different story.

Federal maritime law allows any boater, with any boat, to anchor in navigable water and stay as long as they want. It’s a scenario that all too often leaves non-functioning vessels in place to the point they become derelict, a community eyesore and potentially an environmental hazard.

In August, Palmetto updated its property ordinance to include language in a law passed by the Florida Legislature in 2016 that gives local law enforcement agencies more authority to deal with the statewide nuisance of derelict boats. The law allows law enforcement to take action on boats ‘at risk’ of becoming derelict.

Derelict and abandoned boats tend to draw what are essentially squatters, and the law doesn’t solve the overall issues regarding the difficulties of dealing with irresponsible boat owners. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer Randy Bibler was quoted in the Tampa Bay Times, saying, ‘Much of the public doesn’t understand how the process has to be handled.’

It’s essentially an eviction process where certified letters must be sent out and responded to, and tracking down the owners who have long since abandoned a vessel, even if it was registered, can be a daunting process. Agencies can’t tow boats off the water without making every effort to find the owner, Bibler said.

Hurricane Irma and an overactive storm season in Florida made things worse. FWC and the Department of Environmental Protection have been bogged down in trying to find and remove damaged or missing vessels and ensure those boats have not created an environmental hazard…

‘We continue to work on marine enforcement and right now we are working on agreements with the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to use their boats,’ Tyler said. ‘The problem with availability is that Irma caused a lot of derelict boats those agencies are busy chasing around.’

Vice Mayor Brian Williams said it’s not getting any better: ‘When you have a boat tying up to a sunken boat, that’s an issue. That group is still an issue and hopefully we can accomplish some change on our waterfront.’

Tyler said the changes in the statute were a good start and the subsequent amendments to the city’s ordinance give him the chance to improve the situation…’

— Mark Young, Bradenton Herald

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