Safety procedures slow lock traffic

OKEECHOBEE — Boaters who use the Taylor Creek Lock found longer waits to get from the lake into the Rim Canal on Sunday.

At sunset on Sunday, boats were backed up at the lock, said Mike Godwil.

“There were about 25 boats waiting,” he said.

This Taylor Creek lock photo is courtesy of SFWMD.

This Taylor Creek lock photo is courtesy of SFWMD.

“They were only letting about four boats go through at a time,” he complained.

Previously, he said, the lock tenders would allow as many boats as would fit in the lock.

“There was never a back up like this before,” he said, adding that the wait was more than an hour. He wondered if the lock schedule had changed.

In a telephone interview on Monday, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) spokesperson Randy Smith explained the difference has to do with safety.

“It came to our attention that some of the safety guidelines for operation of the locks were not being followed as closely as they should have been,” he said.

Mr. Smith explained that the locks are managed by a contractor, but until the issues are resolved they will also have SFWMD staff at the locks to get boats through as quickly and safely as possible.

Karen Estock, SFWMD Field Operations Division Director, said the number of boats that can safely use the lock at one time depends on the size of the boats.

“Typically there would be more than four at a time,” she said.

While using the lock, the boaters hold onto tether lines on the sides of the locks as the water level rises or lowers.

“We will work with an engineer to see if we can safely put tether lines down the middle to accommodate more boats,” she said.

“Recently we were sent some disturbing photos of too many boats in a chamber,” she said.

If the boats are too crowded, it becomes a safety issue, as boats can be scratched or damaged.

“It’s all about safety,” she said. “We don’t want to damage anyone’s property.”

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