NAPLES — A Collier County judge has struck down a Naples boating ordinance, ruling extended weekend and holiday speed zones along Naples Bay are invalid because city officials never erected "appropriate" signs after passing a 2004 law.
The order by County Judge Mike Provost, received by lawyers Monday, involved two boat captains who purposely got ticketed in April to challenge extended idling zones from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
However, the ruling doesn't mean there is no enforcement for bay boat speeders.
"This only involves the zones created by the city of Naples," City Manager Bill Moss said, adding that speeders still can be ticketed under state safety laws and manatee zones will be enforced. "Those (laws) created by the state are still in effect."
Attorney James Fox, who represented the city in the ticket cases, said he is still sorting out what the effects are of Provost's ruling.
"We are reviewing it," he said Monday.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission legal staff also is checking whether the ruling affects the city's state permit for waterway marker signs, Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson said.
"We will provide updated information about enforcement of the zones once that review is completed," Segelson said.
Arguing that the 1994 ordinance controls the time "gap" until signs are posted is contrary to law, the judge ruled. And because the 2004 city law changed portions of the earlier ordinance, he ruled it was in direct conflict so it entirely repealed the 1994 law.
City attorneys have argued that a 1994 boat speed law is valid even though City Council repealed it after adopting the 2004 law with maps that expanded idle-speed zones to add all canals and waterways flowing into Naples Bay and Gordon River, including River Park, Gordon River, Avion Park, Golden Shores, Oyster Bay, Royal Harbor, Aqualane Shores and Port Royal.
When opponents successfully challenged a state permit to erect signs to mark the 2004 expanded zones and won, city attorneys contended the 1994 law was revived.
But the judge ruled that the legal cases city attorneys were relying on weren't applicable and that the 2004 ordinance says "amendments to the speeds shall be operative upon the posting of appropriate signs" — and that never happened.
Arguing that the 1994 ordinance controls the "gap" until signs are posted is contrary to law, the judge ruled. And because the 2004 city law changed portions of the earlier ordinance, he ruled it was in direct conflict so it entirely repealed the 1994 law.
The city can appeal the ruling to a three-judge Circuit Court panel, enact a new ordinance, which would have to be approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission — or do nothing.
Capt. Mike Bailey, one of the ticketed captains, called city officials' arguments about safety concerns on the bay "a charade."
"What's going on is the wealthy people of Port Royal don't want us going back and forth in front of their houses in congested waters," Bailey said.
In December 2006, an administrative law judge struck down stricter proposed boat speed zones, ruling testimony showed safety on Naples Bay wasn't at risk and that slowing down boats could make it dangerous. Two years later, an appellate court overturned a state permit to mark those same proposed speed zones, making them ineffective.
Bailey and Capt. Jim Rinckey hired criminal defense attorney Donald Day to fight the city's ordinance and their tickets, which were dismissed.
Rinckey contended city officials don't want to follow the law.
"They think they can do whatever they want and push the little guys around," Rinckey said. "We've definitely lost time and money on our trips. People are paying us good money to take them fishing and they're losing money idling down the bay."
The tickets Bailey and Rinckey got didn't cite a city speed zone ordinance, but rather a Florida law that makes it unlawful for a boater to operate a vessel in a prohibited manner within a boating-restricted area clearly marked by regulatory signs.
After the controversy erupted, the city's lawyers wrote a memo to the city manager that said the city's speed zones can be enforced by citations involving Florida statutes, rather than city ordinances, prompting the captains' challenge.
"The city refuses to acknowledge defeat," said Day, their attorney. "This was not about saving manatees or safety. This was about 'the haves' not wanting the 'have-nots' on 'their' waterways. Well, it's not their waterway. The citizens own the waters."