FWC to revive legislation to regulate overnight anchoring in Ortega River

Riverfront Ortega homeowners and local boaters who desired a law be drawn up prohibiting vessels from anchoring overnight in the Ortega River should not give up hope. 

Although the bill – HB 417 – introduced by State Representative Wyman Duggan died on the vine during the last legislative session, which ended in March, there is a very good chance the issue will be revived when the Florida legislature meets again next year, he said.

For years, Duggan has heard a litany of complaints from constituents about abandoned and derelict boats and liveaboard seafarers who dump raw sewage into the waterway or cause a collision hazard by mooring their vessels without proper nighttime lighting in the Ortega River. His solution had been to introduce a bill which would amend state statute 327.4108 adding the Ortega and Cedar Rivers to a short list of waterways where mooring is prohibited during the nighttime hours just after sunset until just before sunrise in “densely populated urban areas, which have narrow state waterways, residential docking facilities, and significant recreational boating traffic.”

“The bill that I filed did not get a hearing in the House and got one hearing in the Senate,” Duggan said, noting that he was encouraged when incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson had amended the bill to add a waterway in his district. 

Simpson’s interest was indicative that the issue was a problem statewide, and not something that pertained only to waters in Ortega, said Duggan. And when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which regulates state waterways, contacted him two months ago, he was even more encouraged. Recognizing there are similar issues statewide, a legislative liaison from FWC told Duggan the organization may address the issue in comprehensive legislation to be introduced next session. 

 “It is a good sign they are acknowledging the problem and are willing to hammer out a legislative approach to address it,” Duggan said. “We had a conference call, convened by FWC, that I participated in with other stakeholders from the boating and maritime industry. There was a discussion and feedback, and FWC has circulated its draft legislation very recently. There will be one or more follow-up stakeholder meetings, which will have more stakeholder review, discussion, and input about the draft legislation, including this issue. The end result of that process will be a bill that FWC will want introduced next session that among other things will address this issue in a way that will get at the problems we are experiencing on the Ortega River.”

Although Duggan did not want to discuss specifics of the draft legislation, which he referred to as “raw batter” that still needs to be cooked, he did say there will be time for Ortega residents and others to discuss the matter with him through town meetings or by getting in touch with him at his legislative office. 

He also said he expects there will be some opposition to any changes that are made, particularly from the “cruising” community that lobbied against the measure before. “There is a boat lobby that does not want there to be a patchwork of local regulations that impact cruisers – those who travel up and down the coast – who might not easily know what the local rules are,” he said. “Cruisers might want to pull into the Ortega River and won’t necessarily know that they can’t anchor overnight. The lobby does not want to impede that kind of intrastate and interstate cruising. They don’t want to create additional regulations. That’s why they opposed the bill last year,” he explained.

In the past, FWC was reluctant to add the precedent of continually adding small waterways constantly to the mix, allowing that to snowball in a piecemeal fashion, he said. “The fact that the incoming Senate president articulated that this is a problem has showed FWC that it needs to come up with some kind of uniform state approach before somebody else does it,” Duggan said, adding that the legislative language in the draft bill has not yet been agreed upon.

“I’m very encouraged that they have acknowledged the issue, and that they have engaged in seeking a solution that all the stakeholders can try to come to a consensus around,” he said.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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