Petition circulating to keep area around Bunces Pass open to boaters

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Bunces Pass is for boaters. That’s the message more than 5,500 people who’ve signed a petition want Pinellas County leaders to embrace.

Bunces Pass is on the northwest side of Fort DeSoto Park and is a popular spot for boaters and swimmers. Even the occasional seaplane will make a landing there. That combination, on busy days, concerns county commissioners.

Paul Cozzie, the county’s parks and conservation resources director showed commissioners a video at their meeting on Tuesday.

“This particular video was taken last September. I can tell you those conditions have not changed a whole lot,” Cozzie told the commissioners. “The only thing that is going to end this type of activity within that shallow protected area is a vessel exclusion zone.”

Commissioner Charlie Justice expressed his concern.

“I’d just hate for something really serious to happen, and then the next day, you know we would be changing the rules,” said Justice. “I think staff has pretty well thought this out, so I am in support of what staff has recommended.”

The move shifts the swimming area in that part of the park. It also creates a zone that eliminates all boat traffic on the north end of the beach. Only boats with motors are off limits mid beach.

Commissioner Kathleen Peters didn’t believe limiting access for boaters was the right decision.

“I just don’t know that this is the right thing to do. That area is going to close up soon,” Peters told fellow commissioners. “You want to close up just the inside of that lagoon, I can live with that… But I can’t live with it outside of that. I think we’re going to cause accidents if we do that.”

At the end of the agenda item, commissioners voted 5-2 to pass it. Shortly after that, a petition urging commissioners to reconsider started circulating online. Within days, it had more than 5,000 signatures. Brandi Winans was one of them.

“It’s wrong. It’s just wrong,” said Winans. “I think they’re going to end up having more commotion, having more boats come in. And I think it’s just wrong.”

The county still has to get with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to work out signage and other markings in the area. Right now, there’s no time frame on when that will happen.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says he’s already been questioned on what’s off limits, and what’s not.

“I’ve received a number of calls over the last few days with people asking what the rules are. Our marine unit is trying to work with people on it,” said Sheriff Gualtieri. “Nothing’s been posted and nothing’s been marked. So we’re going to work with people.”


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