Boaters protest potential changes to drawbridge’s operating schedule

Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 7:00 AM EDT
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Dozens of boaters gathered in Stuart on Monday to protest potential changes to the St. Lucie River railroad bridge’s operating schedule.

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Florida, called for at least 70 boats to join Monday's protest in the water near the drawbridge and nearby Roosevelt Bridge.

The Coast Guard is considering changes to the drawbridge's operating schedule to allow trains to pass as Brightline moves into the Treasure Coast.

According to a written statement from the agency, "the Seventh District Commander maintains the statutory and regulatory authority to implement changes to drawbridge schedules. The Coast Guard will reevaluate the need for changes to the operating schedules for the bridges and expects to implement any needed changes to each bridge's schedule to coincide with the start of Brightline's service."

No decision has been made yet about adjusting the drawbridge's operating schedule.

In a written statement, the agency said "the number of vessels that can safely pass through the drawbridge opening is subject to many influences including the weather, prevailing circumstances and conditions, other vessel traffic, and the size capability of the vessel, and ability of the operator to safely navigate the waterway."

Mast and Stuart Mayor Merritt Matheson want the bridge to remain open for equal time, 30 minutes for boats and 30 minutes for trains.

"You’re looking at creating danger on the waterway every time you limit mariners to 15 minutes to traverse through there," Mast said.

Matheson said the bridge being closed for long amounts of time risks public safety and that law enforcement and customs and border patrol keep their marine fleets on the west side of the bridge.

The mayor added that said many boaters also use the waterway to evacuate hurricanes heading for Florida's east coast.

As Brightline works to expand, Matheson said more and more trains will be traveling along the tracks. Several trains already use the tracks over the St. Lucie River for freight transportation.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson, the commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District, visited the area on Monday.

"There is value in RADM McPherson personally seeing the bridge and waterway in order to better understand the challenges faced by both the rail and waterway users," the agency said in a written statement.

The deadline for the public to submit comments on how long the railroad bridge should remain open ends on Monday. Residents who wish to submit public comment before Monday's deadline can do so here.

To date, there have been more than 1,300 submitted comments.

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