1 LiveBloggin' the ICW: February 2015

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Florida Anchoring Survey - the Cynical Point of View

Dinghy anchored behind Miami Beach house to block anchoring
The FWC recently released the results of its Florida Anchoring Survey, and the results were, well - intriguing. Not so much that the results were that out of line with what might have been expected, but some recent conversations have brought out the cynic in me. After reading this post, you may well feel the same.
Some history first. Last spring, 2014, the Florida legislature attempted to enact a law which would have permitted some municipalities - read Miami, Fort Lauderdale principally - to enact local anchoring legislation. That legislation would have brought us back to, as the late Claiborne Young was wont to say, the 'wild west' for cruisers, with legislation differing from town to town. Think back to pre 2007. Think 24 hour anchoring limits in some places, perhaps 72 in others before the water cops rushed you out of town.
Cruisers rushed to the mast, headed by Boat US and the SSCA, and hauled that legislative canvas back down the mast before it filled, but that wasn't the end of it. Oh no....
The FWC - Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission - was tasked with conducting surveys, one of which I attended in Vero Beach and reported on in SAIL. (see FWC Meeting)
They then put out a survey on the internet, the results of which can be seen here, and the executive summary here.
At the meetings, cruisers were very explicit on two particular issues - local vs state legislative authority, and setoffs. Well, the survey seems to have come through for us on the local vs state issue - 81% of respondents agree that legislative authority should remain at the state level. We're off that hook.
However, on the issue of setoffs - that's where this survey makes me wonder just what's going on...I'll come back to this, be patient...
The question itself was set up in a way guaranteed to skew the result. That's because many cruisers, like myself, feel that there should be no setoff at all, in large part because it's not necessary. Setoffs also violate the Public Trust Doctrine, but I've covered that issue before - and no doubt will again.
The law has other ways of dealing with the issues that setoffs are supposed to solve that do not infringe on the rights of both boaters and the general public. But there was no 'Zero setoff' choice. Hold that thought for a moment...
The Florida legislature wants, desperately, to keep their wealthy constituents happy. To do that, they need to show that they are addressing this issue on their behalf. How better to do so than to accept a recommendation from the FWC, which was 'supported' by a plurality of those taking the survey, which would effectively close almost every anchorage in the south of Florida?
'Gee gosh, how can you blowboaters and cruisers complain? We TOOK a survey and the majority of you agreed to what we've just enacted as law.' Quitcherbitchin' in other words.
In other words, because 32% of respondents agreed that a 150 foot setoff from private property was acceptable, the legislature will feel the need to enact this as the standard. And yes, I'm taking bets on that.
So. 32%. I might find some solace if that number represented an identifiable group - but over HALF of that number are 'stakeholder group not determined' as you can see by the chart here.
That's right. We're going to get screwed by a group of people who are not identifiable as boaters, OR as waterfront homeowners. We have NO idea who they are, or who they might represent.
The survey indicates that 17% of all respondents are Florida waterfront homeowners. It also shows that 22% of all Florida respondents are not identifiable - 'stakeholder group not determined'.
Here's the definition, from Gary Klein of the FWC, of 'stakeholder group not determined': "that group is anyone who does not meet the other three categories listed which are:  Cruising Boater NOT a Waterfront Resident, Waterfront Resident AND a Cruising Boater or a Waterfront Resident NOT a Cruising Boater.  One example would be NOT a Waterfront Resident and NOT a Cruising Boater."
In other words, people who have no real interest in the decision and are not affected by it. So they could be guys with a 22 foot fishing boat living inland for example. Or someone without a boat living in downtown Miami.
But there's another possibility, a very ugly possibility, for this group - they could be bought and paid for respondents, people whose replies were sought by those wishing a certain outcome to this survey. In other words, waterfront homeowners who want changes to the laws that benefit them.
Am I being unreasonable? Let's look at unreasonable here. Frederick Karlton, of Sunset Lake fame, spent over $30,000 on 20+ Pico rotomolded dinghies to place behind his house to block boaters from anchoring there, as you can see in the photo here.
Dinghies behind Karlton's Sunset Lake home, Miami Beach
That is unreasonable. And, it demonstrates the lengths to which those opposing anchoring will go. It is not beyond the realm of belief that these same people - not necessarily Karlton but those of his ilk - have purchased survey respondents and skewed the survey to give them the result they want.

The great unwashed here represent about 2400 or so people. If each of them was paid $10 to fill out this survey, it wouldn't amount to what one man paid for 20-some Pico dinghies. To people with this kind of wealth, that's not an unreasonable amount of money to get the result they want.
Why would setoffs be the result these people want? Simple - a 150 foot setoff will effectively close every anchorage in south Florida. Just look at the charts done by my colleague Mike Ahart, from Waterway Guide.
The one shown here is of Middle River, Fort Lauderdale. As I write this, a friend anchored there tonight tells me there are 8 boats anchored there - which is probably 1/2 to 2/3 the number this anchorage could comfortably accommodate. With a 150 foot setoff, to which you'll add at least 100 foot of rode, PLUS your boat's length...this anchorage will hold one, perhaps two boats.
This law would effectively eliminate all but three or four boats from Lake Sylvia as well, and there would be no place to anchor from there to Miami. In Miami, it would eliminate anchoring along the Venetian Causeway, and....gee, Sunset Lake. Who'd a thunk it?

Why do I believe that 150 foot setoffs are in our future? First of all, for those of us who have been watching, it's been coming for a while now. The pilot program didn't make the homeowners happy.
There is incredible pressure from certain municipalities - Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Stuart and Martin County, probably others - to permit local rule making.
No choice for Zero setoff...
We were promised back when the Pilot Program was brought in that local rulemaking would not happen. But 'something has to be done' - that's the message state legislators have been getting. The FWC was tasked to research the issue, and they have done so, using a survey so skewed that the one result cruisers would want was not even on it, as you can see here.
And it just happens to be the one result that gives unhappy homeowners what THEY want - the removal of anchored boats from their view.
So yes, I'm cynical. I strongly suggest that the results of this survey should only be used with the total removal of this 'unidentified stakeholder' cohort. Otherwise, they are, in my opinion, total garbage.
I also state here - and I'm going to get some people at these organizations upset with this comment - that those negotiating on our behalf, the Seven Seas Cruising Association, Boat US and the NMMA - state clearly that the only acceptable result is NO setoffs, which is in line with the Public Trust Doctrine. It's also in line with what their members have clearly stated is what THEY want.
I say this because, as one government official said to me, 'the tough part is getting the laws changed. Once changed, they are easy to amend'.
In other words, let's say we settle for a 50 foot setoff. The precedent has been set, and it's no problem for the rules to be rewritten to 100, to 150 feet at some later date.
Local building codes mandate setoffs between houses that are far, far less than 150 feet. Every house on the water is closer to its neighbour than I can possibly get with my boat to the house. Why should we be discriminated against?
No, this survey stinks, and we need to tell Florida, yet again - obey your laws and leave us alone. We aren't the problem.