Speeding boaters endanger manatees in rim canal

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County resident Ron Smith appeared before the Okeechobee County Commissioners at their June 8 meeting to ask them to help protect manatees.

Mr. Smith said he lives in an RV park on the Rim Canal north of the boat ramp at Nubbin Slough.

“The county has installed an excellent boat ramp there,” he said. There is a lot of boat traffic in the Rim Canal and he is concerned about the speeds some boaters travel.

“The problem that arises is there are manatees all in the Rim Canal. Three weeks ago, there was a newborn manatee calf that was floating by the docks behind the house,” he said.

“We called FWC. They called their manatee division and got a response team.

They came over and retrieved the manatee for a necropsy. What the problem there is there are manatees in there all year round. We see them all year round. If this is going to be a calving area, we need to do something about the speed of the vessels,” he said.

He said boats traveling at high speeds are a danger to the property, a danger to wildlife, and could be a danger to the people operating those vessels.

He said the Florida Wildlife Commission has to get permission from the county commission to do something such as a speed zone or a manatee protection zone.

Commission Chair Terry Burroughs said he lives on Taylor Creek in an area where manatees breed.

“I know there are people who go through there and do not care about their speed,” he said.

He asked the county administrator to find out what the county can do to protect the manatees.

“We will find out what we can do and follow up with it,” he said.

In other business

In other business, the county commission agreed to hold back the 4th Quarter budget allotment of $50,000 to the Florida Department of Health for expenses to be incurred by the county for Special Needs Shelter and Preparedness purposes. The Okeechobee County Health Department Building is currently used as the Special Needs Shelter, in the event of a hurricane. The building is in need of upgrades, to be in compliance with the American Red Cross standards, FEMA and other guidelines set forth by Okeechobee County Emergency Management. The census shows there are 400 to 500 persons who would be eligible to qualify for the special needs shelter. Most evacuate or shelter in their homes during a storm. Currently only 50 persons are registered to use the county special needs shelter.

Commissioners also authorized the chairman to sign a contract with Advanced Data Solutions Inc., to provide professional services in archiving records for all county departments into digital formatting in an amount not to exceed $200,000 under the same unit prices, terms and conditions set forth and entered into by Orange County, Fla.

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