Responding to infuriated boaters and complaints from Prince William County, Fairfax County officials are exploring whether they can eliminate newly posted signs requiring boaters on the Occoquan River to keep their speeds to a minimum.
Fairfax officials are expected to determine today whether the signs are legally enforceable without Prince William's support, according to Richard A. King, Fairfax's deputy county executive for public safety.
King said he had asked his staff to look into removing the signs or covering them. The signs "may or may not be there" this weekend, he said.
Posted early this month for safety purposes along the narrow, heavily traveled river, the signs more than doubled the zone in which boaters must keep their speed at a minimum to avoid generating waves in their wakes.
The "No Wake" zone now stretches 3 1/2 miles from the Town of Occoquan to Sandy Point in Belmont Bay, making it one of the longest zones in Virginia.
The extended zone has slowed boaters' trips to and from the Potomac River, some by as much as 40 minutes. On a typical summer Saturday or Sunday, 400 to 500 boaters travel up and down the channel.
"I only tried it one time and I wouldn't do it again," said Fairfax lawyer Stanley Turner, who complained to both Fairfax and Prince William after one suffocatingly slow trip in his fishing boat out to the Potomac. Both counties have jurisdiction over sections of the river.
But some people think the extended zone is an excellent idea.
Barbara Valastek, a manager at Occoquan Harbour Marina, said: "What's 20 minutes versus safety for the people?"
Valastek, who said her opinions do not represent those of the marina, said on weekends she sees motor boats 14- to 50-feet long running anywhere from 6 miles an hour to 60 miles an hour side by side. Several weeks ago, a marina employee's 12-foot boat was capsized by waves from a large motor boat speeding by, Valastek said.
However, Prince William officials were as unpleasantly surprised as some of the boaters when they learned about the new zone, which was proposed by Fairfax County officials and approved by the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
In January, Prince William supervisors endorsed what they thought was a Fairfax proposal to establish a "speed limit" along the crowded river to help prevent accidents. The river has had a good safety record, according to state officials.
Prince William supervisors said Tuesday that they did not intend to endorse something as slow as a "No Wake" zone, which restricts a medium-sized fishing boat to 4 or 5 miles an hour.
However, Jack Cox, with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said speed limits faster than a no wake rule are "extremely difficult to enforce" because patrol boats are not equipped with radar.
So far Fairfax's Marine Patrol Squad, which patrols the river, said it has only been warning boaters of the restriction. No tickets have been handed out.
On Tuesday, Prince William supervisors, some of whom were ambushed by angry boaters last weekend, agreed to ask Fairfax to go back the state to request a repeal of the extended restriction.