Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo
Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo
NAPLES — Suspended slow-speed zones on Naples Bay might have more than a court appeal to beat before they can go back into effect.
Earlier this summer, Collier County Judge Michael Provost tossed out the slow-speed zones on the grounds that the city didn't have a valid speed zone law on the books. The city is appealing that ruling over the objections of City Council members Teresa Heitmann, Doug Finlay and Gary Price.
In a new wrinkle in the longstanding feud between the city and some Naples charter boat captains, speed zone opponents are taking aim at whether the city has a valid state permit to enforce the speed zones in the first place.
"They screwed up," said charter boat captain Allen Walburn, who has led the charge against the speed zones. "It's a mess."
From his summertime fishing gig in Alaska, Walburn has been peppering the city and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission with questions about whether a valid state permit for boat speed signs exists.
The city must have a Conservation Commission permit to erect pilings and signs to mark the speed zones. Speed zones aren't enforceable unless they are marked.
The ongoing dispute over speed zones on Naples Bay began when speed zone opponents successfully challenged the state permit for new slow-speed zones the city adopted in 2004.
The 2004 zones never went into effect, but the city continued to enforce a set of speed zones adopted in 1994 even though the 2004 law repealed them.
In April, two charter boat captains challenged speeding tickets they had gotten for violating the city's speed zones, saying there was no law to back them up. The city argued that the 1994 law had been revived, but Provost disagreed.
Now, the 1994 speed zones are under attack by charter boat captains who say the city doesn't have a state permit to enforce them.
City Manager Bill Moss said the city doesn't need one because the 1994 law, which created an exception for boat motor testing, readopted zones first adopted in 1991. The 1991 speed zones have the state's blessing by way of a letter from the then-Department of Natural Resources, city officials contend.
"I read this letter as (though) it is the permit," Moss said, adding that he has no reason to believe the state issued "plaque, put-on-the-wall type of permits" back then.
Moreover, Moss said, the Conservation Commission directed the city in 2005 to cite the 1994 speed zone law on the Naples Bay speed zone signs after a state inspection found numerous compliance issues with the city's signs.
That direction, though, came months after the 1994 law had been repealed by the new 2004 speed zone law, Walburn said.
"What they did was say you can enforce a law that doesn't exist," Walburn said.
City attorneys and officials with the Conservation Commission couldn't be reached for comment, but an email from the Conservation Commission's boating and waterways section also cites the city's compliance with the 2005 inspection.
"That inspection report and subsequent letter of completion from the city of Naples brought them into permit and rule compliance," says the email from state Conservation Commission planner Ryan Moreau to Walburn in response to a public records request.