Plans for controversial artificial reef sunk

Plans for controversial artificial reef sunk

An artificial reef planned offshore Riverfront Park in San Marco will be relocated to another site, according to District 5 City Councilwoman Lori Boyer.
The reef, intended to improve on- and offshore fishing along the St. Johns River, was the source of much community alarm during the councilwoman’s September town meeting. Residents were concerned the reefs would encourage more angling from the River Road shoreline park — a public space already stressed due to its overuse, small size and lack of onsite amenities among other challenges. Residents’ grievances later were aired during the early October meeting of the Jacksonville Waterways Commission’s artificial reef subcommittee and subsequently addressed by way of a relocation.
Boyer said while the relocation of the reef does not solve the park’s issues altogether, it is a step in the right direction.
“We still obviously have the concern from the neighbors regarding overuse of the park,” Boyer said. A second reef is still slated for the waterfront off Greenscape Celebration Park at the end of LaSalle Road. The city of Jacksonville, through its Housing and Neighborhoods department, applied for the permits to construction the artificial reefs. The application said the reefs expected usage were for boats and shore-based fishing. The reefs would help “4-6 boats utilize the site at any one time” and “enhance shore-based angling at Riverfront Park located in the San Marco area of Jacksonville.”
The reef originally slated for submersion 483 feet off Riverfront Park will be moved further south and out into the St. Johns River channel, Boyer said.
Boyer is vice chair of the waterways commission, a 13-member board that works “in cooperation with the St. Johns River Water Management District, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the State Department of Health, the State Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Geological Survey…to study and make recommendations to the council with respect to the improvement, development and protection of the St. Johns River and all tidal waters in Duval County,” according to the city website.
The Riverfront Park reef — and issues neighbors articulated about the park’s current usage — generated much conversation at the October subcommittee meeting, according to meeting notes. And from the discussion came encouraging action plans from several of the agencies represented on the commission.
Subcommittee members came up with several suggestions during a lengthy discussion period over the matter. Some of the ideas included:
• Having the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission officers at Epping Forest Yacht Club visit the park on occasion to determine whether or not the anglers have fishing licenses.
• Having the Recreational Fishing Alliance and other group representatives visit the site and distribute
pamphlets
• Building a fishing pier at the park
Waterways Coordinator Captain Jim Suber told the meeting attendees that these types of problems are common at all public access sites where fishing is the primary activity. Waterways Commissioner and Chairman Scott Shine indicated he would talk to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to “see if they can lend a hand with enforcement of rules at the site,” the notes read.
“There were a lot of individuals assuming responsibilities for different things,” Boyer said in late October. “Recreational Fishing Alliance was going to agree to regularly visit the site and make sure people understand that if they don’t comply with the rules that fishing might be eliminated — and to encourage them to clean up for themselves and not to trespass, things like that.”
She said the city also has been doing a more frequent job of emptying the trash cans at the park. Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers and representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission also have been making more visits to the park in recent weeks to check fishing licenses. San Marco Preservation Society, she said, had “made some initial steps about talking to residents and the city about the potential of having a floating dock at the location, and allowing fishing from that as an option.”
“The floating dock might alleviate some of the problems onshore, but you still have the parking problem and the bathroom problem so I’m not sure how that goes.”
In her monthly newsletter to constituents, Boyer also said the city continues to look at options short of closing the park to fishing. ”
“But all acknowledge that the lack of parking and bathrooms are major problems that make the intensity of use a challenge and a problem for all residents,” she wrote.

By Susanna P. Barton
Resident Community News

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