Hollywood waterway a haven for unwelcome boaters

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — The neighbors who bought homes near North Beach Park were sold on the stunning view of the Intracoastal — but they’re shocked by what they’re seeing now.

Some of the boats anchored for months in their backyard cove are floating eyesores. Others have been abandoned and left to sink. Just as disturbing are the liveaboard boaters they say dump buckets of poop into the very same channel that jet skiers, kayakers and paddleboarders use on weekends.

The liveaboards deny the claims, saying they come ashore in dinghies to use public restrooms at the park.

And while state wildlife officers say they plan to investigate, they must catch the boaters in the act to levy a fine. And that’s easier said than done, said Sgt. Joe Capua, who heads the marine unit for the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

More obvious but just as difficult to stop are the derelict boats that can become navigational and environmental hazards if left to sink. Six of the 15 boats anchored in the park’s cove area on a recent Friday could qualify as derelict vessels, said John Fiore, a county planner who handles marine issues.

John Passalacqua, president of Hollywood North Beach Association, says he’s been complaining about the problem for years, but has gotten the runaround partly because the area falls in so many jurisdictions.

North Beach Park is in Hollywood but belongs to the county. Marine officers from Hollywood, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission patrol the waterway.

“City Hall ain’t doing nothing,” Passalacqua said. “They say it’s not ours, it’s Broward County. Everyone is so quick to point the finger. This cove has become a port, a home port. Everyone comes in, drops anchor and they stay because it’s rent free. The bottom line is they are polluting our waters.”

Broward County recently paid $18,000 to remove two sunken sailboats. Submerged boats leak fuel and oil and potentially impact seagrasses and marine life, Fiore said. They also pose a hazard to other boaters who might not see them in time.

Fiore said it’s difficult to track down the owners because they usually scrape identification numbers off the hull so they can dump the boats with no legal consequences.

“Most of these people abandon (the boats) at night and disappear,” he said.

State law makes it a crime to sell a boat without transferring title, but it happens all the time in the boating industry, said Tyson Matthews, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Even boats that aren’t considered derelict can pose problems if their owners overstay their welcome, neighbors say.

“Hollywood has this nice little lagoon and with all these boats helter skelter in there, it’s just an eyesore,” said neighbor Ross Frick. “I don’t think anyone minds if people come and stay a couple days, but these guys just anchor it and leave it for months and months. One has been here going on two years.”

And no one can order the boaters to leave. Under a state law enacted in 2009, boaters can drop anchor pretty much anywhere they want for as long as they want, as long as they are out of the navigational channel.

“We used to tell them they couldn’t anchor them more than 24 hours,” said Raelin Storey, spokeswoman for Hollywood. “And then the state law changed that and made it a free-for-all.”

Kurt Winselmann says he no longer lets his son swim in the water behind his home in the Moorings, a community of 42 townhomes that has a bird’s eye view of the 15 or so boats anchored at the cove — some for as long as a year.

“We see people living on the boats and they never have a dump boat come out” to pump out the sewage holding tank, Winselmann said. “Some of the boats are abandoned. And some of them sink.”

Boater Major O’Brien dropped anchor eight months ago and has no intention of leaving anytime soon.

“This is one of the few free places you can anchor — and I think it’s one of the best,” he said. “They have bathrooms here, free water, garbage (cans).”

The shelter has water, electricity, a grill, picnic tables and a view of the Intracoastal. The liveaboards come and go as they please, using the public facilities at Loggerhead Pocket Park on the west side of A1A even after the park closes.

County parks officials posted signs days ago saying the park’s shore area is not designated for watercraft. “No beaching, no landing, no launching, no typing up,” the signs say.

The boaters can still legally anchor in the cove, but county parks officials are hoping the signs discourage them from coming ashore on their dinghies at all times of day and night.

“It’s not a safe area to moor a boat along the shoreline,” said Dan West, director of Broward County Parks and Recreation. “It was not designed for boats or dinghies.”

As a long-term fix, the county wants to eventually create a mooring field with up to 22 permanent moorings where boaters would be charged up to $40 a day to anchor in the area.

The mooring field would be maintained by Broward County and give boaters exclusive access to new restroom facilities, showers and a dinghy dock. But that’s at least three years away, West said.

Boater Ed Goldberg doesn’t like the idea. Too expensive, he says.

Goldberg, 78, moved his 27-foot sailboat and SeaRay 27 Amberjack to North Beach Park five months ago because state wildlife officers were “harassing” boaters at a lake in Miami-Dade County. Goldberg says he plans to keep his boats here forever.

But if the county starts charging, he may have to move on. For now, he’s more troubled by the new signs that went up.

“The sign says this area is not for watercraft,” Goldberg said. “That means … we don’t want you here. People are just shocked. Boats have anchored here for years.”

Goldberg plans to stay — sign or no sign.

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Information from: Sun Sentinel , http://www.sun-sentinel.com/