BRADENTON BEACH -- Parallel to the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach an attached day dock sways slightly with the tide. Though unassuming and plain, the floating dock has recently become the center of tension in Bradenton Beach.
The issue boils down to the dock's usage by private and commercial vessels.
There are questions Bradenton Beach officials say they are waiting for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to clear up: How long can a boat stay moored to the dock? Could officials add a section designated just for commercial vessels?
The city, which has a submerged land lease with the DEP, would like some direction after some boaters in the area raised concerns about congestion on the dock and regulations surrounding it. The lease covers the area a few feet outside the pier, the day dock and the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, according to Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale.
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"There are times when the days are busy, when I'm working the pier here on my bait boat, that I've docked as many as 66 boats throughout the day. Sixty-six boats come and go out of here," said John Maguire, a commercial fisherman who has lived in his boat by the pier for the past five years. "We're really shuffling them in and out. They're close, it's dangerous getting them in, people really don't know how to drive boats really well -- they rent them and they bring them in here."
On March 4, Maguire sat inside his 24-foot pontoon boat moored to the day dock. The 59-year-old Maguire sells bait out of the boat through his business, End of the Line Bait & Tackle. According to Maguire, the city needs a dockmaster -- someone like himself -- to help others moor their boats on the dock.
As Maguire spoke, fellow boater Jeff Cook drew closer to the dock to moor his own boat with his 12-year-old boxer, ZigDog. Farther down the dock, Octavio Utrera was already moored in his sailboat.
"You can't just let a boat sit here for 24 hours a day and not move your boat. That's the problem when the commercial boats come in here," Maguire said. "With me, I stay all day long, but I go home at night at 10 o'clock."
The problems extend beyond the dock usage, according to Maguire.
Pertaining to the dock usage, DEP Press Secretary Lori Elliott wrote in an email Thursday, "the department is working with the city to determine the best way to address its request." No further information was provided.
Dock congestion a problem
Mike Bazzy, president of Bradenton Beach Marina, said he's been bringing up the dock's congestion issue with city officials since last summer.
"They have an overcrowding problem and it's going to get only worse," the 43-year-old Bazzy said. "If you think it's bad now, come talk to me in five years. ... It's going to be tremendously more difficult and, if they continue to allow commercial operators to use that space for free, they're just inviting every commercial captain in the area to come over and take advantage of that space."
Bazzy, one of three other business owners who lost the bid for a restaurant lease to the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, filed a lawsuit against the city last fall over how the lease agreement with Anna Maria Oyster Bar President John Horne was handled. Horne received control over two retail units on the pier just steps away from the restaurant.
Bazzy insists one of the units, a jewelry store, was built for a harbormaster's office.
"Instead, it is being used as a jewelry store, and that is not, in my opinion, in the public's best interest," he said. "The jewelry store can be anywhere else and should be on Bridge Street. The city needs a harbormaster to manage that dock. It doesn't have to be me. It can be somebody else. I don't care. They need management to manage the overcrowding at the dock."
According to Bradenton Beach Mayor William Shearon, the congestion is mostly due to the popularity of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, which opened on the pier a few months ago.
"It's kind of like a traffic congestion," he said. "There's room for seven boats on the dock and we got more than seven people that want to use the dock and there's commercial sight-seeing tour boats and stuff that want to take on passengers."
DEP clarification needed
The mayor said the city needs to have DEP send city officials some clarification in writing.
"The main thing is we're eagerly waiting on DEP's decision because we've had a lot of boaters' concerns," Shearon added. "There's just been a lot of concerns and, until we get that letter, the commission's already been directed that we'll implement whatever they (DEP officials) say."
Sherman Baldwin, senior captain of Paradise Boat Tours, operates his business out of the other retail unit on the pier.
"Paradise Boat Tours has worked off the pier for almost three years. We have, with extremely rare exception, had no problems using the dock as we use it," he said. "Like all commercial boats that use that dock, because there's a number of commercial boats that use it, we do what's called 'touch and go' which means we're there from 2 minutes to a maximum of 30 minutes and we're off the boat."
Each of Baldwin's tours run an hour and a half, three times a day.
"I can speak for the 12,000 people a year that don't have the means, nor the skills to go boating, that now get an opportunity to see our beautiful waters," he said. "We open it up to a part of the public that has much more limited access to our beautiful waterways, bays and Gulf."
Speciale said the floating dock is being used more now the restaurant is open.
"The problem is we have some of these vendors that are purposely docking there just to prove a point that, as commercial vessels, they're allowed to stay there," he said. "That's kind of causing the congestion, which is causing an issue for the pleasure boaters."
Speciale said public funds were used for the day dock, so pleasure boaters and commercial boaters are authorized to use it. Commercial boats, however, cannot conduct any type of monetary transactions on the dock itself, he said. Speciale said Maguire was granted temporary permission from the Bradenton Beach Commission to sell bait on his boat.
As for Bazzy's opinion on the dock usage, Speciale said the businessman has always been told how the day dock operates.
"We've never changed our focus or idea of how that dock is to be used and that's why we're waiting for DEP," the police chief said. "All they're doing is confirming what we've known all along."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.