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Davis Islands Boat Basin Battle: Is it about mooring or money?

1:55 AM, Dec 5, 2013   |    comments
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Davis Islands, Florida -- Dozens of boaters, some who've lived on their vessels for years, are being ordered to leave the boat basin on Davis Islands.

The city says it wants to make room for seaplanes and a new boating facility. But critics say it's less about mooring and more about money.

"It's our right to anchor here," said Karl Illyes.

Illyes and more than 70 other boaters recently got a bright orange sticker slapped on their vessels. The notice from Tampa Police tells them they've got 30 days to get their boats out of the boat basin adjacent to Peter O'Knight airport.

"I don't think they're complying with the law," said Illyes.

Which is why Illyes and others have pooled their money and hired a lawyer against the city which, they say, is trying to profit from what they call an illegal land grab.

"The way I interpret the law we can legally anchor out here and the city has nothing to say about it," said boat owner Richard Campbell.

But Tampa claims it owns the land under the basin, and wants to refurbish the mooring area. When they re-open, they would then charge boat owners a fee to keep their vessels there.

"The bottom line is you can't park your car in the middle of the roadway anywhere you want. You have to pay for parking. And this is prime water real estate," said Tampa Police spokesperson Laura McElroy.

The city also says the surface of the water is leased to the Hillsborough Aviation Authority which would like to land seaplanes here, but the boats are blocking safe access to the basin's boat ramp adjacent to the airport.

"So it's the city's intention to clear out all the illegally moored boats and then go through the proper procedures to set up a legal mooring field," said McElroy.

Tampa has been through this boat battle twice before and lost both times. The city backed off when it got legally challenged and politically heated, but says a 2009 law puts them on firmer legal ground this time.

The boats are welcome to return once improvements are made, but now they'd have to pay.

"People that are lving down here, this is thier homes. This is my home," said Campbell.

"We're simply using the public waterways. We don't have to pay for this. We're taxpayers," added Illyes.

Tampa says it's being generous. City code requires the city only has to give the boat owners 48 hours notice. Instead, it's giving them 30 days to comply.

The city attorney says if anyone can make a reasonable legal argument in that time they're willing to listen.

So far, an attorney for the boat owners has met with the city twice but has gotten nowhere. The boat owners say they are prepared to go to court if need be.

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