DESTIN — The City Council soon could place a moratorium on new livery vessel licenses until a planned harbor “capacity study” is completed.
Such vessels include pontoon boats and personal watercraft. The Destin City Council agreed last Monday to move forward with a moratorium.
On April 1 the council plans to consider the first reading of an ordinance to establish the moratorium. It could receive final approval April 15 and last about a year. It would not affect companies that obtained a livery vessel license last year.
As of last July, there were 15 registered livery vessel companies in Destin. Most of them are in Destin Harbor and some are in Choctawhatchee Bay near Calhoun Avenue. They had a total of 349 vessels: 202 pontoon boats and 147 personal watercraft.
The number of unregistered livery vessels in Destin is “staggeringly different,” or much higher than the number of registered ones, Councilman Chatham Morgan said at Monday’s meeting.
“I need a study to make an informed policy decision, but I don’t need a study to tell me that our harbor is beyond capacity with livery vessels at the moment,” Morgan said. “I’m on the water in the harbor a lot, and it’s dangerous. If we don’t take action and do something about this, and I don’t want to be the town crier, but there will be a tragedy at some point.”
He called East Pass just outside the harbor one of the most dangerous passes in Florida.
The pass and harbor often are filled with “a bunch of novice boaters, many of whom have never driven a boat in saltwater, and a good percentage of ‘em are unquestionably drunk, because I’ve seen it,” Morgan said. “They don’t obey 'no wake' signs, and that’s through no fault of their own. They don’t know what a 'no wake' sign is.”
The Harbor Community Redevelopment Area Advisory Committee recently recommended the council impose the moratorium and conduct a study of the harbor.
The committee supports a moratorium because of safety concerns, “both for the boaters and also the folks who recreate in the harbor,” city Community Development Director Louis Zunguze said.
The committee also backs a harbor capacity study to determine the “maximum defensible number of vessels that we can allow in the harbor,” he said.
The study also will have an economic component to support the tourism industry and recreation, and an environmental aspect to ensure water quality issues, he said. The study will examine those issues in the Harbor CRA district and the Calhoun Avenue area of the bay.
The council unanimously agreed to support the study, the cost of which has not been determined. Councilman Parker Destin didn't attend the meeting.