DESTIN — A city moratorium on the issuance of certain new livery vessel licenses received the City Council’s initial approval on Monday.
That’s when the council, in a 6-0 vote, approved the first reading of an ordinance to establish the moratorium. If the council adopts the ordinance on April 15, the moratorium would take effect immediately and expire on Nov. 1.
Livery vessels include rental pontoon boats and wave runners. The temporary moratorium would allow the city to work on ways to better regulate those types of watercraft, which city officials say clog up the Destin Harbor and other local waterways.
According to city information, the possible moratorium would prevent a livery vessel business “from obtaining more permits for livery vessels than that vendor was issued in the previous year unless the vendor can demonstrate a substantial hardship or there is an existing agreement between the city and the vendor that has been approved by the City Council."
As of last July, there were 15 registered livery vessel companies in Destin. They had a total of 349 vessels, consisting of 202 pontoon boats and 147 personal watercraft, according to city data.
While the number of unregistered companies reportedly is much higher, Destin officials say livery vessel businesses in general disproportionately contribute to dangerous boating conditions in local waterways. They point to an abundance of inexperienced people who unsafely operate rented livery vessels.
If adopted, the moratorium would remain in effect at least until an outside entity completes a harbor “capacity study” on the city’s behalf. Among other elements, the study would determine the maximum defensible number of livery vessels that can be allowed in local waterways.
City staff is working on finding a company or individual to conduct the study.
“The study could tell us (the local livery vessel scene) is fine, and we don’t take any action,” Mayor Gary Jarvis said. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Councilman Rodney Braden said he hopes the entity that performs the study counts all livery vessels, including those that are driven to Destin from outside of the area.
Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell did not attend Monday's meeting.