After three public hearings and much discussion,
At the Aug. 5 county meeting, commissioners voted 4-1 to pass the “Leave No Trace” ordinance which creates rules about beach debris. Commissioner Noah Lockley opposed.
The main purpose of the law is to protect endangered sea turtles that nest on island beaches, but human safety and aesthetics are also factors in creating the new rules.
The new ordinance drew widespread attention. USA Today ran a news brief to announce it, and a chat room about the topic appeared on the popular travel-oriented webpage TripAdvisor.com almost immediately after the law passed. One post warned, “This will not end well!” but eight other postings applauded the ordinance.
As the county hearing began, County Planner Alan Pierce displayed an online petition with more than 1,100 signatures collected in support of the ordinance. The packet presented to commissioners included photos of clutter on the beach.
The current version applies only to public beaches on
“At this point the main issue is tourists on
The law, which took effect upon passage, stipulates that year round, between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., all equipment must be moved from the sandy portion of the beach to the edge of beachfront vegetation or the toe of the dunes. Unattended holes must also be filled in. Anything left on the beach during prohibited hours will be tagged, confiscated and destroyed at the county landfill.
Shuler said during an initial educational phase of enforcement, there would be two tags posted on material in violation. A county employee will place a yellow warning tag on debris, and after an as-yet undetermined period of time, the tag will be replaced by a red one and if a county follow-up crew finds the debris still in violation, it will be confiscated.
Collection crews will maintain a log of items collected. The items will then be transported to the landfill where they will be weighed and destroyed.
Once an item is collected, it will not be returned to the owner. Shuler said this policy is largely due to the difficulty of determining who owns items that carry no identifying tags.
Shuler said a widely discussed, important issue was how to deal with businesses on the public beach. Some businesses own property adjacent to the beach, and others are on the public beach but own no property.
Under the new ordinance, all beach businesses must obtain a permit from the planning and building office defining the area where they can make transactions.
Companies renting beach equipment are responsible for making sure the beach is clear of their products and other equipment during hours mandated by the ordinance. Rented equipment will be confiscated and destroyed if it is in violation.
Lockley expressed concern visitors might not understand the law or won’t want to remove their equipment from the beach every night.
Pierce said most Panhandle counties have passed a similar ordinance, and many visitors will have encountered beach debris laws elsewhere.
Shuler said the ordinance would be enforced by county employees, including parks and recreation and sheriff’s deputies.
Lockley said the St. George Island Turtle Patrol, a volunteer organization, already tags beach debris. “How will they tell the tags apart?” he asked.
Shuler suggested the turtle volunteers be asked to stop tagging beach debris.
Commissioner Pinki Jackel said a website should be created to inform the public about the ordinance. She suggested money from a fund awarded by US Fish and Wildlife could be used both to educate visitors and to pay for a part-time enforcement officer for six months. She also said printed information could be provided to vacation rental companies and visitor centers.
Commissioner Smokey Parrish asked how enforcement would be paid for when the grant money is depleted. “In my opinion it should come from TDC (Tourist Development Council) funds to pick up after the visitors and people we’ve asked to come here and spend their dollars,” he said. “I don’t think the taxpayers ought to have to fund that.”
In a telephone interview, Pierce said the Bay County TDC is funding educational materials and staff to support its beach debris program.
Parrish warned that the county must take care not to offend visitors. “We don’t want to discourage our tourists from coming to our area,” he said. “They make a huge economic impact. We need diversification in our economy.”
Pierce has been charged with creating signs for rental homes and designated beach walkovers. Signs for rental properties will incorporate information about the county’s turtle lighting ordinance in addition to the new beach debris ordinance.
Before the final vote, several island residents commented on the proposed law. Some opposed it.
“Everybody wants to pass feel-good legislation but I don’t think government needs to be involved in this,” said Mason Bean, past president of the St. George Island Civic Club. “I don’t know how the county could afford it.
“The answer is education. Trash used to be our biggest problem. It still is, but more people are picking up after themselves and it’s getting better. These tourists come back year after year and it will get better,” Bean said. “Every time we pass more rules and more government, we lose a little more freedom.”
Rose Dry, wife of Bruce Drye, the
“You have before you an internet petition with almost 1,200 signatures from a wide cross-section of people supporting the ordinance,” she said. “It’s not just the turtles; it’s a matter of public safety. People fall into the holes and trip over the guidewires and walk into volleyball nets and they get hurt.
“This is the most visible beach on the island. We want to make a good impression. People want beauty when they come here,” Rose Drye said.
After the ordinance passed, Steve Harris, a member of the board of directors of the St. George Plantation said an attorney is in the process of amending the