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U.S. Seeks Legal Protection in Manatee Cases

November 07, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration wants to immunize the government from lawsuits for the next five years when endangered Florida manatees are unintentionally injured or killed in collisions with government watercraft or mishaps around docks, boat ramps and marinas.

Sam Hamilton, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast regional director, said Wednesday that regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act "expose government agencies to potential liability" when manatees are harmed.

The agency says the proposed regulatory change would apply to northwest Florida counties along the Gulf of Mexico, the upper St. John's River and the Atlantic Coast. Six hearings on the proposal will be held next month in affected communities.

In the proposal, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it also intends stricter enforcement of speed zones in the Atlantic. The government would still be liable for unintentional harm to manatees in southwestern Florida counties along the Gulf Coast, where the manatee population is considered to be under greater threat.

The proposed regulatory changes were issued as U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan again threatened to hold Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton in contempt, this time because she did not meet a Friday deadline for publishing the changes.

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