Port Richey taking aim at problem boaters

Port Richey City Council discussed ways to address problematic boaters along the Cotee River after hearing an update from the Port Authority Board and complaints from waterfront residents.

PORT RICHEY — Living on a popular body of water like the Pithlachascotee River means seeing and hearing plenty of recreational activity.

Boaters, Jet Ski users, kayakers, paddleboarders — they’re all found on the river’s winding path through New Port Richey and Port Richey.

But while some noise generation is to be expected, especially during peak periods, the situation is getting excessive and disrespectful, said Carl Roth, Port Richey Port Authority Board chairman. Speaking during the city’s July 14 regular City Council meeting, Roth described public behavior as the one issue that has “generated probably the most passion from folks that live in our community on the river and use the Cotee for recreation.”

According to Roth, primary concerns are boaters traveling at excessive speeds, loud noise, expletive-laced music, vulgar mannerisms and expletives from vessel operators made toward waterfront residents, and public urination from both male and female vessel occupants.

“Just about everyone I have spoken with are pretty tolerant and want folks to get out and enjoy (the waterways), and, most importantly, respect the river,” Roth said. “Respect is a word I heard time and time again.”

Roth and the Port Authority Board presented the City Council with a Cotee River Waterways Safety Initiative that aims to address these issues. The suggestions included having the city and Port Richey Police Department engage outside entities, such as New Port Richey, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife and the United States Coast Guard. Setting up public education opportunities and placing consistent signage at boat ramps throughout West Pasco are also elements of the initiative.

All five council members agreed that problem boaters need to be addressed, though potential solutions need more discussion and action.

“The past three months it’s really been crazy out there. We really need to step up and work with our partners with the county and the state,” said Councilman Tom Kinsella.

“I am all for this,” Councilman Todd Maklary said. “A big part of having a community on the water is, for those who are not boating, they should be able to enjoy the outdoors just as much as those who are boating.

“Unfortunately, the more effective means to getting this would be a larger police presence and more ticketing,” he added.

Port Richey has language in its city code regulating vessel speed on its waterways and a noise ordinance, said City Attorney James Mathieu. The city’s police department has one police boat, but council members stated an upgrade is necessary, especially to undertake larger waterway code enforcement duties.

“We’ve got one, but we really need something more appropriate for our police officers to work with,” Councilwoman Jennie Sorrell said. “And then we have to certify our police officers to do this kind of thing on the water.”

Waterfront residents Ray and Cathy Duquette spoke on the issue via Zoom conference calls and voiced their frustration with loud, disrespectful boaters.

“We moved here four years ago thinking this was going to be our forever place, but it’s not peaceful,” said Cathy Duquette. “I’m a mom, I’m a grandma and I don’t want my kids out there listening to this (music that has) sexually explicit and racially nasty lyrics that is loud enough to shake our windows.

“I understand the river is a recreational venue, but it is also a family community. We should be able to enjoy being outside as much as anyone else and the lack of enforcement is making that impossible for us.”

Council members agreed to look into the issue further, notably in terms of enforcing noise and speed issues on waterways and the police department exploring the purchase of a new boat.