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National Politics

Restricted boat zone may make waves during RNC

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:37 AM
TAMPA -

Laurence Salkin makes his living on the water — specifically, the waters the federal government might close for the week of the Republican National Convention.

"Capt. Larry" launched his on-demand downtown water taxi service in 2008 and was looking forward to the "gold mine" the convention would bring, ferrying passengers between the Tampa Convention Center and major downtown hotels, Harbour Island and Davis Islands.

Salkin hoped to get a better idea of how he might operate during the busy week at a meeting called recently by local, state and federal law enforcement officials. Instead, after attending the meeting, he remains bewildered and unable to book business for that week in late August.

The situation is no clearer now that the Coast Guard has unveiled its initial waterways security plan.

The Coast Guard expects either to shut down a number of downtown Tampa bodies of water or at least provide detailed security screenings of boaters wishing to pass through those areas, Chief Petty Officer Russell Tippets said.

"We actually don't know what we're going to do yet," he said. "Based upon comments or feedback, we'll make a decision down the line as to whether that means an area is fully closed or some boaters are allowed in."

A proposed federal rule posted online this week creates seven temporary security zones during the Aug. 27-30 convention in downtown Tampa. The zones would be regulated from Aug. 25, a Saturday, through Aug. 31, a Friday.

It is possible the plans would prevent boaters from passing through the mouth of the Hillsborough River adjacent to downtown, the convention's epicenter. But it also is possible that boaters heading into the zones merely would be subject to Coast Guard boarding and inspection, Tippets said.

"The security zones are necessary to protect convention delegates, official parties, dignitaries, the public, and surrounding waterways from terrorist acts, sabotage or other subversive acts, accidents, or other causes of a similar nature," the proposed federal rule states.

The seven security zones are near the convention's main venues: – the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center.

The convention is expected to draw protesters and anarchists and "presents an attractive target for terrorist and extremist organizations," the rule states.

Salkin said worries about downtown gridlock during the convention have prompted inquiries from various entities.

The University of Tampa, he said, is concerned about transportation to and from campus for 300 students who — because of a lack of on-campus housing — live downtown at a Howard Johnson hotel.

Would shutting down waters around downtown preclude Salkin from moving his three vessels to the university from their "home port," the docks behind the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel, just south of the Kennedy Boulevard bridge?

"Unless you have some approval from the government agencies, I can't make the commitment," Salkin said he has been telling prospective customers.

"On one hand, it should have been a real gold mine, having 60,000 well-heeled people in downtown Tampa," he said. But tight restrictions could cost him not only convention business, he said, but the fares of tourists and others who regularly want to travel the river or get a close look at baseball star Derek Jeter's mansion on Davis Islands.

The seven security zones include:

Ybor Turning Basin.

Commercial vessels could enter the Ybor Channel, Ybor Turning Basin and Sparkman Channel zones as long as they comply with protocols including advance notice of transit and inspection and examination of vessels and those seeking entry.

If authorities decide just to inspect boats before allowing them into the zones, law enforcement officials might signify their intent to board by flashing blue lights, hailing the boat or trying to call the boater on a VHF radio, Tippets said. Investigators would make sure boaters are sober, have required safety equipment and aren't carrying explosives.


jpoltilove@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7961

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