When 25MPH speed limit signs popped up in the back bay in 2019 local residents took notice. Not only because of the new signage but because boats were moving faster in what they consider to be a year-round manatee zone.
The concerned citizens organized a committee and went to the town council to start the ball rolling to get the speed limit signs lowered, which is no easy task.
Here’s how and why the signs were changed to the higher 25 MPH limit.
When Hurricane Irma came through she took the signs with her. Speed limit signs on the water falls under the responsibility of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Department.
FWC researched the area (generally from Bowditch to the Big Carlos Pass) and concluded that from November to April the speed limit should be 25 MPH and the higher speed limit signs were installed. The belief was that the manatee population leaves the area searching for warmer water and boaters should be allowed to pick up the pace a bit.
That decision riled up many in the community who believe that area should be a no wake zone year round to protect the Manatees. A group of community residents led the fight to research who to speak to locally and at the state level to have the speed limit lowered to a minimum wake manatee zone year round. They wanted to make their case that a switch doesn’t flip in the brain of a Manatee so they all of a sudden know to get out of the way of speeding boats every November 1st.
One piece of the puzzle was getting the local elected officials to talk to the state and convince them this was the right change to be made. Another piece was for the town council to pass a resolution called for the year-round manatee zone minimum-wake speed. The council did that in September of 2020.
The final step was for the town to obtain a permit from the FWC Boating and Waterways Division to post the signs to mark the zone created by the ordinance. Those permits were approved and the signs were installed this week.
Lee County Commissioner Ray Sandelli was instrumental in helping the town get the lower speed limit signs approved and installed. “I believe our cooperative work on this topic is the best in who we are. Our residents bring forth an issue and take it to town council, in this case Dan Allers, who can add some local clarity and perspective. I can then engage the Lee County team with assurance we are all aligned to solve the issue. Always glad to work together”
Fort Myers Beach Town Councilman Dan Allers said, “We are still in need of replacing some missing signs throughout the rest of the bay that were taken by Irma. However, in the short amount of time since some signs have gone back up, we are already seeing the benefit of a good collaboration. Through the hard work of our town staff, my fellow council members, Commissioner Ray Sandelli and his Lee County staff, we were able to correct a dangerous section of Estero Bay.”
Sue Morris from The Committee for the No Wake in the Back Bay said, “The committee would like to thank all the folks that helped us in our efforts to change the speed in the back bay. A special thank you to Chad Chustz, Environmental Project Manager for the Town of FMB. His work in drafting the ordinance and completing all the paperwork required by several agencies was critical to this becoming reality.”
Here’s where the new slower speed zones are being installed according to Morris. From Fishtale Canal Junction with the bay, south, past the waterside fishing pier, to the Big Carlos Pass.
Morris also went on to tell us that the manatee that was recently found dead in Big Carlos Pass was first spotted in the back bay. She says the year round Manatee Zone will “help put an end to this unnecessary loss of our wildlife.”
The final step was for the town to obtain a permit from the FWC Boating and Waterways Section to post the signs to mark the zone created by the ordinance. Those signs were installed this week.