PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has passed a rule designed to provide greater protection to manatees in Brevard County, Fla. The action came on Wednesday, May 23, the first day of the organizations's three-day meeting in Palm Beach Gardens and concluded the final public hearing on the Brevard County issue.

Before voting on the proposed rule, commissioners listened to three hours of testimony from the public and discussed the issue among themselves for another hour.

Those in favor of the rule spoke of the need for lower boat speeds in certain portions of the county's waterways to protect manatees from collisions with boats. Opponents, mostly boaters and anglers, criticized the added restrictions, citing increased travel times, loss of waterskiing areas caused by slower boat speeds and safety concerns caused by additional boat traffic in remaining higher-speed areas.

"We paid careful attention to public comment on both sides of this issue, both today and in three previous public hearings and workshops, plus countless phone calls, letters and e-mails," said David Meehan, commission chairman. "Some of the members have toured the affected areas. In the end, we made a decision that we believe considers both the needs of the manatee and the impact of changes on boaters on Brevard County waterways."

During their discussion, commissioners approved amendments by
vice chairman John Rood restoring three water ski areas that otherwise would have seen reduced boat speeds.

"I appreciate the impact these new rules have on boaters and skiers," Rood said, "and want to do something in the spirit of compromise. Retaining these three areas will lessen, somewhat, the burden of these new restrictions on skiers."
The restored water ski areas are in Titusville and the central Banana River area.

Manatee-protection measures now include addition of a slow-speed zone (with a 25-mph zone in the Intracoastal Waterway channel) in the southern and eastern sections of Turnbull Basin. Also, commissioners approved addition of slow-speed shoreline buffers, 500 to 1,000 feet wide, along most of the Indian River shorelines between S.R. 528 and Grant.

In the Canaveral Barge Canal and Sykes Creek, commissioners changed 25-mph areas to slow-speed zones and added a 1,000- foot slow-speed shoreline buffer in part of Newfound Harbor. commissioners also added an idle-speed zone in the Banana River, adjacent to the Canaveral Sewage Treatment Plant, and removed the 35-mph zone in the Cocoa Beach area in favor of a slow-speed zone.

In addition, commissioners removed the 30 mph zone in Mosquito Lagoon and reduced the sizes of several slow-speed zones in the Indian River north of the NASA Parkway, and in the central Banana River, south of SR 528 and north of the Pineda Causeway.

The rules take effect six months after filing or when signs in the affected areas are posted.