Storm tweaks tie-up rules
PUNTA GORDA — On Saturday, a day before Tropical Storm Isaac began lashing Southwest Florida, the owners of a yacht on Crescent Drive decided to secure their vessel with lines crossing their canal. That blocked passage for another vessel whose owners were trying to relocate it for the storm.
The conversation that ensued was passionate enough for police to be summoned. It was resolved without anyone going to jail, records show.
However the incident brought into focus conflicts over a city ordinance that gives the city manager the authority, once a state of emergency is declared, to dictate when boats can be secured with lines blocking canals. The City Council clarified that policy, during a critique of the city’s response to the storm Wednesday.
Although the Crescent Drive residents may have “cross-tied” too early, City Manager Howard Kunik said he came under criticism from a few residents for authorizing boaters to tie up too late.
Kunik had authorized residents to cross-tie boats beginning at noon Sunday, after Isaac’s first bands began to arrive. He ordered the lines released by noon Monday, while squalls were still buffeting the area.
Councilwoman Carolyn Freeland alluded to the fact it could take a couple of hours to secure lines for storms.
“By 2 o’clock (Monday), the winds were high and water was getting higher,” she pointed out.
She suggested the city authorize cross-tied boats earlier as storms approach. If incoming boaters get blocked, they could seek refuge in marinas, she said.
Fire Chief Rob Hancock said he checked with several waterfront communities, including Miami-Dade County, to see how they manage cross-tying boats. Those communities have chosen to let boat owners “work it out among themselves,” he said.
However few of those other communities have as many canal residents as Punta Gorda and Burnt Store Isles, which boast 65 miles of canals.
“It’s very much a balancing point between making sure you can tie up boats and having the ability for somebody to come in and out,” Hancock said.
Councilman Harvey Goldberg suggested the National Hurricane Center’s tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings be considered for a cue. A watch means storms are possible within 48 hours, a warning means the storms are expected within 36 hours.
“We have to decide the cue, number one, and then we have to publicize that to all the boaters,” he said.
The council agreed. At least for the remainder of this hurricane season, a storm watch will trigger the city to alert canal residents that the city soon will allow boaters to begin blocking canals. A storm warning would be the trigger for the cross-tying to begin.
“That gives people 12 hours to get out (before canals get blocked),” said Councilwoman Rachel Keesling.
Another problem arises when boaters who relocated vessels try to return — and find canals blocked by someone who left town, Freeland said. Sailors are known to pull out a knife and cut the lines of such vessels, she said.
Hancock suggested the rules call for boat owners to untie their cross-tied lines “within 24 hours or when safe to do so.”
City Attorney David Levin suggested the city’s ordinance include a “Good Samaritan clause” discouraging lawsuits against sailors who untie cross-tied boats if they resecure them in a normal fashion, after a storm has passed.
Kunik called for the Boaters Alliance to review the rules in September.