A “leave no trace” law to further protect sea turtles by banning stuff from being left on beaches overnight is under consideration before county commissioners

On Oct. 1, commissioners held a public hearing to discuss an ordinance to ban unattended “holes in the sand” and recreational equipment from county beaches at night.

The ordinance proposed at the meeting prohibits obstructions on all county beaches. It requires a sign be prominently posted in each short-term rental unit warning that items left unattended on the beach between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. will be considered abandoned and become the property of the county. They would be confiscated by police or other county employees and taken to the landfill.

County Attorney Michael Shuler said the ordinance was meant to protect sea turtles, and enhance and develop tourism. He said both public and private beaches would be regulated by the ordinance.

Bruce Drye, marine turtle permit holder for the island, said obstructions on the beach are a problem that is increasing every year. “Visitors that walk our beach at dawn don’t see the beauty, they see the clutter,” he said.

Eastpoint resident Liz Sisung asked what the program would cost.

Parks and Recreation Director Nikki Millender said her employees patrol the beach seven days a week looking for trash. Tthey make daily trips to the landfill and could add enforcement of the law to their existing duties, she said.

Shuler said enforcement of the ordinance would be by existing county employees and require no additional funding. Millender said she had plans to have an employee working evenings on the public beach next summer.

County Planner Alan Pierce said Bay County hires a contractor to enforce a similar ordinance.

Shuler said the commission could impose both civil and criminal penalties for violations of the ordinance, but recommended the penalty be restricted to confiscation of abandoned property. He said the time and expense of tracking down owners of the property would make other penalties impractical. He said the ordinance could be amended in the future if it became necessary.

Commissioner Smokey Parrish said the cost of replacing confiscated property would be a deterrent to violations of the ordinance.

Jackel agreed. “Some of those chairs and things are pretty pricey,” she said.

Millender said the ordinance would help parks and recreation employees, who must now determine whether property is broken before they remove it.

“I can’t stand to see the stuff on the beach. If they come on Monday, their stuff stays there until Friday,” she said. “We have the dilemma that if we’re cleaning around their stuff they come and say that things have been stolen. This will help with keeping our beaches cleaner.”

Drye said rented beach equipment has the name of the vendor. He said rented chairs and umbrellas often create a long barrier for turtles.

Jackel said there would have to be education about where property could be appropriately placed. “We don’t want to infringe on personal property rights or business,” she said.

Commissioner Noah Lockley said he didn’t want the ordinance to interfere with anyone’s business.

Jackel said the ordinance could be a win-win situation for the turtles and beachgoers. She said she received emails both in support of, and objecting to, the ordinance.

She said she thought rules requiring beach equipment and holes dug on the beach to be attended at all times were too restrictive. She said removal of objects from the beach should be tied to sunset rather than a specific time because sunset is later than 7 p.m. during the summer.

Jackel asked that abandoned property be held for retrieval at the landfill before being discarded. Commissioner William Massey suggested confiscated property be distributed to needy families.

Commissioner Cheryl Sanders asked if the law would apply to traditional seafood harvesting activities like seinyards.

Parrish asked how it would be possible to police 15 miles of beach. Shuler said an ATV with a trailer could be authorized to patrol the area, just as turtle permit workers already have authorization to patrol in ATVs.

Jackel said she was opposed to using ATVs on the beach for safety reasons.

“We allow people to sleep on the beach at night and we’re not taking that away. We don’t want people out there in sleeping bags and ATVs when it’s dark,” Jackel said.

She suggested the board move forward with the ordinance with some revisions. Shuler said he would revise the ordinance and bring it before commissioners at a later date.

Commissioners voted unanimously to table the ordinance.