George Neugent can't wait for Wednesday's Monroe County Commission meeting.
The commissioner isn't eager to sit through hours of mundane government business, he just wants the county to finally proceed with a series of long-awaited test rules for boats moored off the Florida Keys.
"It has been a frustrating experience," Neugent said of the delay in implementing rules that would be effective until 2014. "We know what needs to be done, but there has been a reluctance to move forward. It's been a mess and it needs to be cleaned up. People are still going to be able to live on their boats and to cruise. The only thing this does is help eliminate irresponsible boating."
The commission is scheduled to vote on a draft of the rules, and if approved, send them to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) board for approval at its June meeting in West Palm Beach. Then the County Commission would vote on them again before they're enforced.
The proposed rules include banning non-motorized floating structures, requiring proof of regular sewage pump-out, annual Coast Guard Auxiliary safety inspections and tagging -- and eventually removing -- vessels at risk of sinking. The rules would also set up no-anchoring buffer zones around managed mooring fields in Marathon and Key West.
The rules are part of a pilot program with the FWC, which wants to give local governments more control over live-aboard and cruising vessels. FWC is concerned about derelict and abandoned vessels, pollution and water quality.
The rules would affect Key West Harbor, Boca Chica Basin off Stock Island and Sunset Key off Key Largo. After 2014, the FWC would review the rules and decide whether to ask the state Legislature to make them permanent.
The rules have been delayed because they have met with some resistance from the live-aboard and cruising communities.
Neugent is a member of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, which has been supportive of the FWC pilot program. Neugent, Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton and sanctuary representatives plan to meet with FWC and state Department of Environmental Protection officials in Clearwater next month to discuss creating more managed mooring fields off the Keys, Neugent said.
"The only way to clean up some of the areas is by requiring pump-out and having managed mooring fields," Neugent said. "It is the only way to deal with the derelict vessel issue, which is costing the county $273,000 a year in boater improvement funds."
The boaters fear the pilot program gives FWC officers too much discretion. They reminded the commission at previous meetings that these boats or floating structures are people's homes and businesses, saying they should be treated with respect. They have requested some kind of hearing procedure before removal, which could be included in the rules.
There has also been opposition to prohibiting floating structures, as there are several floating businesses, bait shops and watersports barges around Wisteria Island in Key West Harbor.
Don Bilodeau, who has operated the same floating bait shop off Wisteria Island for the past 10 years, has voiced opposition to the rules about prohibiting floating structures. His bait shop has never sunk nor damaged the seafloor, he said.