1 LiveBloggin' the ICW: Strange Bedfellows in the Florida Anchoring Battle

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Strange Bedfellows in the Florida Anchoring Battle

The fight goes on, and we are are struggling to hold our ground against sneak attacks and behind the scenes amendments in Florida. In the meantime, while others are fighting the good fight at the pointy end, I’m in the bilge skulking about as usual. I came across some interesting sludge down there...

The big three on the Florida Anchoring Wars have historically been Boat US, the Seven Seas Cruising Association and the National Marine Manufacturers’ Association.
Lately, a lot of people have been questioning why the NMMA has not taken a more public stand against SB 1548. I mean, really? Not be against a move that will harm boating in one of the Union’s most ‘boaty’ states?  A bill that will harm sales and employment in their membership?
So I sent NMMA director Thomas Dammrich a letter that asked that question. I also asked that if I were incorrect in this, that he please correct me. 
He advised me: “Your information is incorrect. NMMA has been engaged on this issue for years and continues to be engaged today”. Note the use of the word “engaged”, which is typically doublespeak and means whatever the person using it wants it to mean. He also said that their state legislative director, David Dickerson, would contact me. 
Mr. Dickerson called, we talked, and I asked: “Could the NMMA state that they are unequivocally opposed to residential anchoring setoffs?” There ensued a very long silence.
He ultimately had this to say: “The NMMA does not believe that homeowners have the right to an unfettered view of the horizon. We recognize that in limited circumstances there are problems with boats anchoring too close, for extended periods of time. We're working with the legislature to find a way to protect boaters' rights and also recognize, also address, the issue of boaters anchoring unreasonably close for extended periods of time”. 
So there. It’s definite, they don’t like setoffs. 
But wait - what are “limited circumstances”? What does he mean by “too close”, or “extended periods of time”? What is “unreasonably close”?
That’s a lot of gray area for the NMMA to play about in and I’m a guy who likes things black and white.
I asked Dammrich about these specifics in another note. Dickerson got back to me and basically said - we feel that these are issues for negotiation with the legislature and not a subject for public discussion.
 So I am left having to speculate because of that. It is NEVER a good thing to let me speculate as I have a vivid imagination... so fasten your seatbelt, take your motion sickness pills, this could be a wild ride.

NMMA has a nice young man, David Chiles, who lobbies for them. Met him in Vero Beach last September. One might think that, during this crisis, he’d be going from office to office in Tallahassee, speaking with senators, discussing the pros and cons of SB 1548. Ok - the cons, since by and large, this is not a good bill for boaters.
One might think that....but Chiles, so word has it around the capitol, has been told to sit down and stay quiet. Now why would that be? This is important business - so said NMMA Director Thomas Dammrich in 2011 in a letter to me, stating:
“I expect that NMMA will be very active in 2014 when the report is reviewed by the legislature to be sure that any bill under consideration supports the boating lifestyle and the right of boaters to use the state’s waters liberally and under consistent laws.”
But some things have changed since then, including, so it seems, the NMMA’s staunch support of boaters’ rights. Let me tell you an interesting little story I heard...
Seems some young Miss who works as a lobbyist for boating interests wants to see the city of Fort Lauderdale drop its ordinance that disallows people from remaining on their boats for more than six months. That’s horribly inconvenient to the megayacht crews - and to the owners, who have to provide supplementary (and expensive) housing for them.
Let’s face it, we cannot, in Fort Lauderdale, ever inconvenience the rich. Right, Mayor Seiler? But I digress...
So this young Miss, she suggests - or it is suggested to her, I’m not sure on this point - that if the NMMA is quiet about SB 1548, which Fort Lauderdale loves to the point of having hired an expensive lobbyist to promote it, the City just might, you know, wink wink, nudge, hey doncha know - change its ordinance to suit the megayacht people. 
Isn’t politics wonderful?
So is there the least bit of evidence for any of this? Well, yes there seems to be...
During the committee hearing when SSCA and Boat US openly opposed the dwelling unit set back provision, the NMMA supported the bill and did not oppose the amendment. There has not been one single statement from the NMMA opposing the dwelling unit setback provision, and no effort by the NMMA to push for amendments that would delete the dwelling unit setback for view. That’s pretty telling, isn’t it?
During the hearings process, people addressing the bill fill out an attendance card in which they state that they a) support; b) do not support; or c) are there for information only. In other words, they don’t have any real feelings on the proposed legislation.
Well, young Chile’s card reads ‘C’ - there for the information. Really?
So I thought, maybe Chile’s has a case of ‘management induced laryngitis’, which, if ignored can lead to unemployment, so let’s see what the NMMA website say about this issue.
Dang! I must have a faulty internet connection. There’s not a single mention that I could find on the NMMA site regarding SB 1548.
WHAT? The NMMA isn’t damning this legislation because of how it affects boaters? Not to mention the people who sell to boaters, who pay dues to the NMMA, who pay the salaries of the NMMA executives?
I must be wrong. So I thought, let’s talk to Phil Purcell of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF) about this. 
Well, Phil sounds like a nice fellow, he really does, very considerate man. He even said that local municipalities need to be able to weigh in on this subject, that “one size doesn’t fit all”, (or so it sounded, which is why I put that in quotes), but my phone connection was a bit iffy. He really wasn’t advocating a return to local ordinances again, was he? Nahhh, couldn’t be.
He did say lots of nice things about not wanting to harm the boating lifestyle though, and that everyone should play nice, which I thought was very lovely of him.
Except - the MIASF hasn’t taken a public position on this issue, which I find amazing for an organization that represents companies doing “$11.5 billion dollars south of Palm Beach,  with 136,000 employees”. That’s a quote from Phil, by the way. See, he knows his stuff, doesn’t he?
But - maybe what he has to say on this issue might not be welcome news to the boaters who buy the products and services of his members? That would make it bad news for the owners of the companies he represents, wouldn’t it? 
A shame my phone went out just before I was going to ask him that. He did say that he wanted more information on this topic - so perhaps we, as boaters, can provide him with more information on this issue. 
His email is info@miasf.org, and you should tell him that SB 1548 affects you directly, that you won’t be cruising in Florida because of it, and that you will not be spending money with his members for that reason.
That should focus his attention on this issue properly. We might even hear from him on this issue, publicly, which would be nice for such a prominent organization located right in Fort Lauderdale, where megayachts and bedrooms are so closely linked, and everyone understands what is needed - wink wink, nudge, doncha know? doncha know?
There's actually more - a major power yacht builder who supports the legislation, for one. Also a Fort Lauderdale marina. What about a legislature that has no data - I’m serious, a senator asked this question just last week -  on how this bill will affect businesses, or even how many anchorages will be affected. 
No one in the government has any idea how much damage this bill will do to Florida businesses and communities - because they haven’t bothered to research this issue at all. 
This bill is being driven by a few wealthy homeowners who don’t like boats at anchor, and it is being enabled by boating organizations such as the NMMA and MIASF that won’t stand up, grow a spine and publicly make the concerns of the boat buying public - who are the clients of their member companies - the major issue instead of playing politics with their friends.
Excuse me now please, I have to leave you...for some inexplicable reason, I feel the need to go have a long, hot shower.