Carl Drysdale has lived on a boat at anchor in the Seaplane Basin behind Garrison Bight for the past 10 years, and he doesn't want to move. But if a proposal that makes it illegal to "live on the hook" in some Florida Keys harbors and bays becomes law, he may not have a choice.
For the next 11 days, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is accepting public input on a proposed pilot program that would require live-aboard boaters like Drysdale to move to managed mooring fields.
"I've seen more boats than I can remember break free of the mooring field," Drysdale said, adding that he has multiple anchors on his fiberglass houseboat, and he repairs or replaces anchor lines annually.
"They all want us to move so the landowners and developers have a nicer view," he said. "This is about cosmetics, not safety."
The areas affected by the proposal include Key West Harbor, Seaplane Basin, Cow Key Channel, Boca Chica Basin between Stock Island and Boca Chica Key, Boot Key Harbor in Marathon and Sunset Cove in Key Largo.
The program includes a ban on non-motorized floating structures in the designated areas, requires proof of regular sewage pump-out, mandates annual Coast Guard Auxiliary safety inspections, and the eventual removal of vessels determined to be at risk of sinking.
The most contentious provision would ban anchoring in the designated areas -- except in emergencies such as foul weather -- and instead require live-aboard boaters to rent moorings.
Jon R. Emig, a recently retired Conch Train driver, said he has been following news coverage of the proposal. When he saw that the county could make the entire area where he is anchored off-limits, he had concerns.
"I live aboard my boat and I am in the safest, best place for my boat to be located, for several years now," he said. "I like the people around me. I am protected here."
The pilot program would be established by a county ordinance and would remain in effect until 2014.
If the Monroe County Commission approved the new rules -- no date has been set for that vote -- it would forward them to state wildlife officials for approval. Then a second commission vote would be required before they were enforced.
After 2014, the FWC would review the program and decide whether to ask the state Legislature to make it permanent.
The program was developed primarily due to concerns about water quality and derelict and abandoned vessels.
Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent said the county spent about $250,000 last year removing derelict vessels.
Resistance from the live-aboard and cruising communities delayed the approval process, and on Wednesday FWC announced it would accept additional public comment until July 23.
Neugent said he has been studying the issue for at least 20 years.
"The small percentage of irresponsible boaters give the high percentage of good boaters a bad name," he said. "My position is that this is about resource protection."
Neugent said anchors scar the seafloor, and abandoned boats become both an environmental problem and a safety concern.
"Many of the arguments I hear are from people who want no restrictions whatsoever," Neugent said.
The proposed county ordinance is posted at http://myfwc.com/boating. (Click on "Anchoring Mooring.") Residents also can call FWC offices in Tallahassee at 850-488-5600.