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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Holmes Beach nixes new turtle ordinance

Holmes Beach city commissioners unanimously rejected a proposed new turtle lighting ordinance at their April 6 workshop, calling the ordinance excessive and not in the best interests of city residents.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff told the commission that adoption was strictly "voluntary," but technology and populations have changed since the current turtle ordinance was adopted in 1978.

The proposed ordinance would have updated the lighting requirements for condominiums and other structures along the beach during the May 1-Oct. 31 turtle- nesting season.

The ordinance would also have addressed other issues such as construction during the nesting season and what beach activities might be harmful to turtles.

But commissioners agreed they didn't feel the need for a new ordinance.

Commissioner Roger Lutz thought the ordinance would only create a lot of "unintended consequences," and went "overboard" in restricting activities and lighting.

"It also puts the city in a position we should not be in," added Commissioner Rich Bohnenberger.

"Common sense," he said, is not prevailing in this ordinance, and it should be up to the State of Florida to enact such legislation, not the city.

On the east coast of Florida, the state allows a turtle nest to be moved for safety reasons, but not on the west coast, he noted.

People who advocated a new ordinance should lobby the state and not saddle Holmes Beach with the liability.

Commission Chairperson Sandy Haas-Martens agreed.

"I think it goes too far," she said.

It's true that turtles and people need to co-exist, but not under such excessive legislation, Haas-Martens observed.

The commission consensus was to take no further action on the proposed ordinance, although Commissioner Patrick Morton thought the commission should "revisit" the ordinance to get "something we can work with."

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox, who had lobbied for a new ordinance, said after the meeting that rejection will not really affect Turtle Watch or the turtles.

"We still have a good ordinance" in Holmes Beach, she said. "We just need to beef up enforcement."

In fact, a number of beachfront home and condominium owners have called her recently asking what turtle-friendly lighting they should install.

"They're doing it voluntarily and are happy to do it," Fox said.

In other business, the commission unanimously passed the first reading of a new ordinance that will amend the city's current building setback requirement along the coastline to conform with the already established Florida Department of Environmental Protection's erosion-control line.

The ECL is a marked, fixed point, said Building Official Bill Saunders, while the city currently uses the mean high-water line as a coastal setback.

That line changes constantly with weather and tides, so it's much more "prudent" for the city to use a fixed line, he said.

Commissioners agreed and will add a definition of the ECL "as established by the State of Florida" in the proposed ordinance. The DEP does not allow coastal construction within 50 feet landward of the ECL.

The ordinance will return to the commission with those changes for its first reading.

Mayor Carol Whitmore also reported that much of the material from the canal dredging project currently stored behind the Birdie Tebbetts baseball field is going to DeSoto National Memorial Park in Bradenton for beach renourishment there.

The dredged material is "beach-quality sand," she said, and the city has three more canals to dredge.

Whitmore is working with the City of Bradenton and Manatee County to sell some of the material to renourish the Palma Sola Causeway beaches.

The commission also unanimously adopted a resolution to the U.S. Coast Guard in support of changing the bridge-opening times on the Anna Maria Bridge and Cortez Bridge from every 20 minutes when required to every 30 minutes.

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