New law lets Broward County stop ‘squatters on the water’

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Abandoned boats and longtime liveaboards on unmaintained vessels are a big problem in South Florida, especially in Hollywood.

One lake is so choked with derelict and at risk vessels it’s almost impossible to navigate, and that’s not the only problem these floating eyesores are causing.

Hollywood resident Terry Cantrell, President of the Hollywood Lake Civic Association, has had enough.

“It’s only gotten worse. Fifteen years ago there might’ve been five or six boats out here during the winter. This is what we’ve ended up with here, an average of forty boats. There’s about 38 boats out here right now, today.”

It’s been 16 years since the state of Florida passed a preemption law basically banning municipalities like Hollywood from being able to enforce how long a boat can stay anchored in a local waterway.

The result, says Cantrell, has turned the once beautiful lake into an eyesore.

“It’s a vessel that’s been docked here for weeks, maybe months, sometimes even years,” he said, before referring to the boat as a “squatter on the water.”

Between abandoned vessels and decrepit derelict boats, the lake is so congested it’s become a safety hazard.

In December a fire broke out, sending one man to the hospital and leaving behind the charred remains of two of four boats tied together into the waterway.

“You can’t tie four boats up,” said witness Patrick Werner. “You tie four boats up, you’re running generators, you have fuel, electricity, everything else going on around. It’s just unsafe for you and other people around you.”

Residents who recreate at the lake say the people who live aboard the boats are dumping their garbage in the water, and worse.

“These people that live here, you know, they are dumping their sewage into the water,” said Lake Operations Director Luis Olivera. “Going by certain boats, yeah I’ve smelled it.”

The problem extends beyond North Lake, up to Loggerhead Park and down to South Lake.

City Commissioner Caryl Shuham said ever since she was elected she’s made it her mission to try and clean up these waterways.

“As with most preemptions, there’s some unintended consequences and unintended consequences here were boaters deciding to make this basically a permanent home,” Shuham said. “It was a big deal. Our entire City Commission was united on this.”

In December Broward County successfully lobbied the state to pass a new law that now gives counties back the right to establish their own anchoring limits near urban areas.

“We want to make sure this is a clean body of water,” said Commissioner Beam Furr.

From now on, boaters won’t be able to anchor their vessels in Hollywood for more than 45 days within six months.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but we’re hopeful this will really give the police a tool to help keep things moving,” said Shuham.

Once enforcement begins, boaters who overstay their welcome will receive a citation. Repeat offenders can have their boats towed and impounded within 12 hours, and those who have multiple violations will have their boats permanently removed and destroyed.

BoatUS helped lobby for the new legislation that still protects responsible boaters who want to travel through the Intracoastal.

“I think we’re where it’s a challenge is that we’ve got boats there that really aren’t boating anymore, they are doing something else,” said BoatUS Manager of Government Affairs David Kennedy. “And at this point, you know that it’s not going to work in that place.”

Broward County is testing the new law, for now, only in Hollywood.

“We know that this is an issue up and down the waterways,” said Furr. “This is the beginning of this whole project of all this. So we’re watching as it develops.”

If it works, other Broward County cities will be next.

Enforcement will begin once the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission puts up signage warning boaters that their days of squatting are numbered.

“There’s a limit to that, and that’s 45 days, and you have to give other people a chance,” said Furr.

Cantrell can’t wait to have his lake back.

“What we would like to see is a minimal amount of boats here and return this lake to what it was supposed to be, a recreational lake for the residents of Broward County,” he said.

Over the past three years, Hollywood police has removed 29 derelict vessels from the lakes and intracoastal.

This is very costly to the city, running upwards of $5,000 per vessel, depending on the size, and there is a lot red tape involved.

It’s a big problem not just in Hollywood, but all across the state.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.