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Boaters eager to get out on the Suwannee River will have trouble launching at public ramps this holiday week. The ramps have been closed in Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties by their sheriffs due to high waters resulting from Tropical Storm Debby that are carrying heavy amounts of debris down the river.
The Levy County Suwannee River boat ramps located at Clay Landing, Camp Azalea and Fowlers Bluff closed at 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 30, and are likely to remain closed all week.
Even if a boater finds a place to launch on private property, they could have a hard time going much of anywhere as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has cut speeds to "idle." That is also due to the high waters, heavy debris in the water and to keep boats from creating wakes that will push water onshore into homes along the river.
"It's not safe," said Levy County Sheriff's Lt. Scott Tummond. He said when waters rise on the river, any boating activity is going to impact homes.
"We can't totally prohibit people from getting on the river, but we are going to keep the vast majority of holiday traffic off the river."
Karen Parker of the Florida FWC said that if officers spot a boater whose wake sends water or debris into a home they can be cited and held responsible for the damage.
Tummond said folks who do get on the river need to watch out for debris and pay attention to the lights showing idle speed is mandatory from the Wilcox area to south of Fowlers Bluff.
"The sheriff went to the Fanning Springs boat ramp and they were struggling to get debris out from under the ramp," Tummond said. The story was much the same at the nearby bridge over the Suwannee.
Tummond said the FWC officers will be on the river and violators will be "talked to and could receive citations should that be necessary."
The FWC website defines idle speed as "the minimum speed that allows the vessel to maintain headway and steerageway."
Tummond said predictions on if and when flood stage will be reached on the river have varied so much he is not sure it can be accurately predicted. Also complicating predictions is that the river gauge at Wilcox is malfunctioning. According to the Suwanneee River Water Management District website the U.S. Geological Service will be checking and repairing the gauge.