Rowers clash with boaters over whether stretch of water in Arlington should be low-speed zone

A push to change a popular stretch of water in Arlington often used by rowers and boaters is creating a big debate.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A push to change a popular stretch of water in Arlington often used by rowers and boaters is creating a big debate.

The area in question is near the Cesery Boulevard Bridge.

Davis Bales, the program director and head coach of the First Coast Rowing Club, said the rowers and boaters often share the channel, and rowers think the area needs to be made a “no-wake, low-speed” zone for boaters to prevent crashes and make sure they stay safe.

The proposal would make sure there are signs posted all along the area urging boaters to slow down. It would apply to the area 300 feet from the bridge on either side.

The subject came up this week during the Jacksonville Waterways Commission meeting.

Bales said a low-speed zone would prevent a tragedy and keep everyone on the water safe.

“It’s not just about us, but absolutely my biggest concern are the children in this program who are at risk,” Bales said. “I don’t want to wait for an accident to happen to do the prudent thing.”

He said the stretch is shared between rowers, boaters, kayakers, and even standup paddlers, and they are all in close proximity. With the help of some parents, Bales submitted a proposal in an attempt to make this area a safe zone.

“We are not asking for anything out of the ordinary,” said one parent at the commission meeting. “We are asking people to slow down. We have some boats speeding. There are some neighbors that don’t want the boats speeding by.”

But boaters say they were using the area long before the rowers started practicing there and the rowers are making something out of nothing.

“I do not believe there is a safety issue. There has never been an accident. So if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” boater Lisa Almeida said.

One boater even said the rowing club knew this was a high-traffic boating area when it moved there in 1990 and rowers clog the channel themselves, which contributes to the safety concerns.

“It is not something that was hidden,” one boater said at the commission meeting. “It’s like me moving near an airport then (complaining) about the noise 25 to 30 years later. They knew it.”

The boaters said most boaters slow down and are extra cautious when they see the rowers anyway.

But Bales said more needs to be done. He said this is not an attack on boaters but an action to prevent a tragedy.

“Most are really courteous. Sometimes we have conversations. They are great people. But there are a few, and it only takes one speeder to take a life,” Bales said. “To say there has never been an accident does not change anything. Are we going to wait for that accident?”

The proposal originally was going to extend beyond the Cesery Bridge area all the way down to the University Boulevard Bridge.

Commissioners said a decision will take time and there is no timetable for one. They want to have more input from the community and experts on the best thing to do.

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