Officials in Florida have revised a proposed manatee-protection plan to allow 5,000 new boat slips in southern Broward County. The revisions were made following successful lobbying efforts by South Florida's boating industry, which has an $18.4 billion economic impact on the community, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale.
"The commission basically did what they had to do as elected officials," Frank Herhold, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, told the paper.
The original draft, released last year by the Broward County Environmental Protection Department, would have restricted marine development along the Dania Cut-Off Canal, South Fork of the New River and other southern Broward waterways.
A provision that would have halted approval of new marinas if manatee deaths exceeded a certain number within five years has also been stricken in the revised proposal. The plan also calls for additional law enforcement, more manatee warning signs and expanded education efforts.
Some environmental organizations criticized the plan because it will allow more boats in the area.
"We're very concerned about the increase in that part of the county," Patti Thompson, director of science and conservation for Save the Manatee Club, told the Sun-Sentinel. "It is a manatee protection plan, after all, and if it's not going to do that, what's the point?"
The county, along with other coastal counties in the Sunshine State, are required by the state to prepare manatee protection plans that address where docks, boat ramps and other facilities may or may not be built.
Manatees in June were downlisted from endangered to threatened by the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The manatee, a large, plant-eating aquatic mammal, is still considered endangered by the federal government.
The boating industry is lobbying for quick passage of the plan to end a moratorium on new construction of marinas, boatyards and storage units. Florida's boating industry also is grappling with fierce competition from states to the north. In recent months several Florida-based companies, attracted by lower costs of living and expansive labor pools, have announced plans to move to places like North Carolina and Tennessee.