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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

New strict turtle ordinance in development for Holmes Beach

In reaction to the number of sea turtle deaths during the 2003 nesting season and pressure from Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, Holmes Beach city commissioners will be considering the repeal of current turtle-related ordinances and enacting a new, tougher set of laws for protection of marine turtles.

Some of the provisions in the proposed ordinance exceed the minimum guidelines provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Suzi Fox, director of the Island turtle watch program and permit holder for the Island's beaches, feels that the old ordinances, drawn up from generic state guidelines and inserted with the ordinances of dissimilar seaside communities, were not specific enough to Holmes Beach nor were they enforced adequately.

"The turtle mortality rate in Holmes Beach far exceeded the number of deaths in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach," Fox stated. She would prefer to see one set of laws governing the three cities on Anna Maria Island, but doesn't think that will become a reality soon.

"The idea was to make this one - the new ordinance - the strictest and the best in the state," she added.

Lighting, beach furniture and enforcement are some of the main concerns during the turtle season, which runs from May 1 to the end of October. General coastal development and construction practices must also be scrutinized.

Holmes Beach city commissioners will convene a workshop at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16, to discuss the details of the proposed ordinance, which was drafted by City Attorney Patricia Petruff.

After a series of workshops to receive public input and to fine-tune the proposal, commissioners will vote on the new ordinance.

Fox is hopeful that the new set of laws, as written by Petruff, will be adopted "in its first draft and not watered down."

Opposition to this draft will likely come from motel owners, developers and beach residents, who feel that it will create an unsafe environment and a financial burden. And, indeed, the restrictions on lighting, new standards of development and construction practices are comprehensive.

The purpose of the proposed ordinance "is to protect threatened and endangered marine turtles along the beaches of the City of Holmes Beach, by safe guarding the nesting females and hatchling marine turtles from the adverse affects (sic) of artificial light; and adult marine turtles from injury and harassment," according to the ordinance.

Jurisdiction is for only the Gulf beaches within the City of Holmes Beach. The city commission is authorized to grant variances under certain circumstances.

Much of the ordinance deals with lighting definitions and restrictions, including vehicular lights, building exterior and interior lighting, standards for new development, standards for publicly- owned lighting, requirements for construction sites, and new standards for existing developments.

The type, wattage and height of lights will be highly regulated. Basically, any direct or indirect light that can be seen from the beach or cumulatively illuminated lighted areas that are bright enough to cast a shadow on the beach will be prohibited. Many of the corrections to offending light sources can be done simply by redirecting fixtures, reducing the wattage and switching to yellow "bug-lights" or true neon lights, physically installing shields on the lights, or plant vegetation buffers between the light source and the beach.

All windows and doors of ground-level or multi-story structures that are in a direct line-of-sight of the beach will be required to install tinted glass or film.

There are also provisions in the proposed ordinance for education and dissemination of information and civil and administrative enforcement powers.

Disruptive activities, such as building fires or operation of motor vehicles on the beach, will be prohibited from sunset to sunrise during the nesting season.