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North Florida Field Office

Frequently Asked Questions regarding the Amendment to Lower St. Johns River Federal manatee protection area


Q1: Why are you modifying this manatee protection area (MPA)?

A1: Subsequent to the Final Rule establishing this manatee protection area, State and local officials notified the Service that portions of the Duval designation if posted as outlined in the Final Rule could pose a boating safety issue and would be problematic for State and local law enforcement officers to enforce.

For the past 18 plus months, the Service has cooperated with State and local officials, as well as parties to the original Stipulated Order, to review and develop revised zones in the specific areas of concern to address these issues.

Q2: How is the amended designation different from the original designation?

A2: The Fish and Wildlife Service is amending a portion of the Lower St. Johns River Manatee Refuge area in Duval County , Florida to provide for both improved public safety and increased manatee protection through improved marking and enforcement of the manatee protection area. Specifically, that portion of this manatee protection area which lies downstream of the Hart Bridge to Reddie Point will be modified to allow watercraft to travel up to 25 miles per hour (mph) in a broader portion of the St. Johns River to include areas adjacent to but outside of the navigation channel. Watercraft traveling near the banks of the river will be required to travel at slow speed much as they do now. The primary exception will be around Exchange Island where the coverage of the existing State and local slow-speed zones will be expanded. However, in the main portion of the river, watercraft will be allowed to travel at speeds up to 25 mph. The manatee protection area will also be expanded approximately one mile further downstream to the extent it was originally proposed (68 FR 16602; April 4, 2003) in order to compliment existing State and local governmental manatee protection measures. This modification is supported by State and local government and parties to the March 18, 2003 , Stipulated Order which resulted in the initial rulemaking for this manatee protection area.

Q3: Why is it different?

A3: The modifications outlined in this Final Rule will eliminate some restrictions and provide a greater margin of safety between recreational boaters, and large private and commercial vessels. They will also allow for MPA boundary signs on wooden posts to be replaced with buoys; thereby reducing the collision danger associated with these markers.

These modifications also resolve the concerns noted by State and local enforcement agencies who have agreed to assist in enforcing the modified area. Increased enforcement will improve the effectiveness of the protection measures not only for the benefit of manatees, but for human safety as well.

Improved posting in the area will make compliance by the public easier; and with the support of the State and local regulatory agencies for this modification, manatee protection throughout the Lower St. Johns Manatee Refuge will be improved. Parties to the Stipulated Order participating in this process also agreed to the modifications.

Q4: Was the public given an opportunity to participate in this process?

A4: Section 553(b) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) allows Federal agencies to publish a direct final rule “when the agency for good cause finds...that notice and public procedure thereon are impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.” The action accomplished in this rule is entirely within the scope of the prior rulemaking proposal which has already been subject to extensive public review and comment. Further review and comment is therefore unnecessary.

Because of the improvements to public safety described in Answer #3 above, any delay in implementation is also contrary to the public interest. For these reasons, we find good cause to make this rule final without prior opportunity for public comment.

Q5: When will these modifications go into effect?

A5: The APA provides that agencies must normally wait a minimum of 30 days before making a rule effective. However, this rule will relieve restrictions on the public which currently pose a potential hazard to public safety. Therefore, pursuant to APA sections 553(d)(1) and 553(d)(3), the Service is making this rule effective immediately.

Q6: Did you consider economic and quality of life impacts on affected Stakeholders when making your final decision?

A6: Yes. We considered waterway access, impact on commercial and recreational waterway users, as well as community economic impacts in reaching final decision.

Q7: Will the manatee protection area modifications affect waterway property owner access rights?

A7: No. Designation of Federal manatee protection areas does not eliminate waterway property owner access rights.

Q8: Will the modifications restrict my access to Florida's waterways?

A8: No.

Q9: Can the Fish and Wildlife Service adequately post signs in this amended area?

A9: Yes. Posting of appropriate signs is a critical element for effective implementation of manatee refuges. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Inland Navigation Districts, local governments, and the U.S. Coast Guard, as appropriate, are all involved in the development of sign plans for Federal manatee refuges. The ability to adequately post and enforce designated sites was a factor in our modification of the final site designation process.

Q10: How will this manatee refuge be enforced?

A10: Manatee refuges are only effective to the extent that boaters comply with posted regulations. As such, enforcement is an essential component of our effort to establish additional manatee refuges. State and local officers have agreed to and are authorized to enforce Federal manatee refuge regulations, just as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers can and do enforce State manatee protection regulations. We welcome any assistance that the State and local agencies can provide in the enforcement of manatee protection areas, and we have made a commitment to ensure that adequate enforcement is provided.

Q11: How does this affect the Save the Manatee Club, et al. vs Ballard, et al. Stipulated Order?

A11: Parties to the original Stipulated participating in this process agreed to the modifications as outlined in this Final Rule Amendment.

Q12: What are the next steps in the process?

A12: The Service will move forward in contracting for posting of the modified portion of the Lower St. Johns manatee protection area. Posting of the remainder of this MPA is already under contract.

Q13: How is “slow speed” defined in these regulated areas?

A13: “Slow” speed is defined as the speed at which the watercraft proceeds fully off plane and is completely settled in the water. Since watercraft of different sizes and configurations may travel at different speeds, a specific speed is not assigned. However, a watercraft is NOT proceeding at slow speed if it is - 1) on plane, (2) in the process of coming up on or coming off of plane, or (3) is creating an excessive wake. A watercraft IS proceeding at slow speed if it is fully off plane and completely settled in the water, not plowing or creating an excessive wake. Exceptions to slow speed restrictions are contained in 50 CFR 17.105 and include activities “...reasonably necessary to prevent the loss of life or property due to weather conditions or other reasonably unforeseen circumstances or to render necessary assistance to persons or property.”

Q14: What is your legal authority to establish/designate manatee protection areas?

A14: The authority to establish protection areas for the Florida manatee is provided by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 , as amended and codified in 16 USC 1531 et. seq., and by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 , as amended and codified in 16 USC 1361 et. seq. and regulations promulgated pursuant to these Acts, which are found in Title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 17, subpart J . We may, by regulation, establish manatee protection areas whenever there is substantial evidence showing such establishment is necessary to prevent the taking of one or more manatees.

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Last modified April 28, 2005