Saturday, May 14, 2005

Accidents Prompt State to Light Phosphate Docks

The week of May 13, 2005 Accidents prompt state to light phosphate dock In the wake of two accidents within 12 hours on Saturday involving boats running into the darkened phosphate dock in Boca Grande Pass, the state began work this week to place lights on the partially submerged pier. Two clients aboard a charter fishing boat were treated at an area hospital for minor injuries after the boat in which they were riding collided with the north end of the unlit dock shortly before 5:30 a.m. on May 7. The boat was heading south when it struck the dock's exposed pilings that extend well into the entrance to Boca Grande Pass. The dock is north of the former Florida Power and Light fuel dock near Boca Bay. Investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimated damage to the boat at more than $5,000 as a result of the accident. Later the same day, after sundown, a different charter boat sustained damage to its hull when it struck another cluster of exposed pilings at the former phosphate dock. There were no injuries in the second accident. DEP's Heather Stafford said the dock has not been lit since last year when the lights were damaged in August by Hurricane Charley. "We are working on replacing all of the lights out there," Stafford said. "There will eventually be three lights on the dock." Cappy Joiner, president of the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association, said his group has been asking DEP to light the dock for about a year, but has received no response until this week's accidents. "Their (DEP) complaint is that they don't have the facilities," Joiner said. "If they are responsible, they need to take care of it. There is no doubt in my mind that they (DEP) feel they are responsible for these accidents." Although crews worked throughout Wednesday to replace the lights on the old dock, the lights were not working that evening, local guides said. One of the passengers aboard the boat involved in the pre-dawn accident Saturday morning said he and his stepfather were looking forward to a day of tarpon fishing when the collision took place. Steve Anderson of Toronto said he was in Boca Grande vacationing with his wife Claire, their two small children, his mother and stepfather Graeme Clark when the accident occurred. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Division of Law Enforcement: The captain was at the helm of a 24-foot boat. Anderson, 35, and Clark, 61, also of Toronto, were looking forward to a day of tarpon fishing. The captain was headed south on the island's east side, running at 10 to 20 mph, when without warning his boat struck the end of the unlighted phosphate dock at about 5:30 a.m. Anderson, seated in the front of the boat, was thrown forward and struck a rod supporting the spray curtain, straining his neck. Clark, sitting with him, fell forward and suffered bruises. "It was a moonless night and very dark," Anderson said. "The lack of lights on the dock was a major cause of the accident. If it had been marked we wouldn't have hit it." The collision holed the boat's left bow above the waterline. The captain immediately returned to the dock for medical attention, then notified the U.S. Coast Guard and the Fish and Wildlife Commission. "He was very professional," Anderson said. "He got us back to shore as quickly and safely as possible. He was a gentleman and obviously very distraught by the situation." The captain, who has more than 100 hours of operator experience, was not cited. Anderson and Clark drove themselves to Englewood Hospital, where they were treated and released. The captain said the boat was "done for the season" and is currently being repaired.

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