Move the barge

One life’s been lost and a young family shattered. Another devastating tragedy like this one must be prevented.

Over the holiday weekend, a Central Florida man drowned after falling off a personal watercraft and getting swept under a barge moored between Coquina Bayside and Longboat Pass on Anna Maria Island. Jose H. Medina, celebrating the Fourth of July with family and friends at the popular park, was helping his fellow rider get the watercraft upright when the current pushed him into the barge. The 30-year-old’s life jacket could not keep him above water.

While hindsight is perfect, this was a recipe for disaster. Anchoring a barge and tugboat near a family beach, watercraft launch and picnic grounds — and in waters well known for strong currents — is not prudent.

Manatee County officials should have suspected that mooring spot carried certain risks for public safety. The current there runs close to 8 knots, and on summer afternoons a 3-foot tide races from the bay, through the pass and into the Gulf.

The barge is loaded with hundreds of tons of old construction material destined to enrich the Seven Mile North artificial reef, one of more than a dozen that Manatee County’s Conservation Lands Management Department has built to benefit divers and anglers.

Is this the only mooring spot for the tugboat and barge, as one county official stated? In all of Sarasota Bay? We find that difficult to fathom.

We agree that people need to keep a wary eye on the current there, as the county’s Marine Rescue Division warns. Still, people are attracted to Coquina Bayside and launch their watercraft there. It’s fairly common for riders to dump their craft in the water.

The barge and tugboat remain a threat to public safety and should be moved before another weekend arrives and people flock to the park. We urge the county to find another mooring site for this and future reef projects.