Thursday, June 27, 2013

From dogs to ultralights, Marco Island's beaches face issues

MARCO ISLAND — Wednesday morning, the city’s Beach Advisory Committee (BAC) held two meetings for the price of one. The first, at 9 a.m., was the regular monthly meeting of the group, tasked with helping to protect, preserve and improve Marco’s “crown jewel,” in the Community Room at the city government complex, downstairs from the police station. Immediately after adjourning, they reconfigured the room, and held a public workshop with the topic “Working together as a community on beach issues, future projects and goals.” The workshop drew over 40 beachfront property owners, hoteliers, government officials and concerned Islanders “stakeholders” in government parlance getting a status report and sharing concerns.

In the actual committee meeting, BAC chairperson Debbie Roddy reported on beachgoers bringing their dogs to the beach with fake “service dog” documentation.

“They’re in the water out swimming, and bouncing on their leashes. You know they’re not service dogs.” She wondered about how to gently approach the owners of such dogs, and was cautioned by city Environmental Specialist Nancy Richie and Community Services Director Bryan Milk to leave it to the staff.

“As a volunteer beach steward, that’s not your job. If you suspect, it should be called into the police,” said Richie.

“As a steward, I’d be very hesitant to call anyone out. People are very sensitive, especially if they know they’re doing wrong,” said Milk, while lauding the work of the beach stewards. The problems of people flying ultralight aircraft over the beach and people digging, then leaving holes in the beach were also discussed.

“The Federal Aviation Administration says they may not operate over open air assemblies of people,” said BAC member Ralph Barnhart, who researched the issue. His wife, he said, had seen the aircraft flying just 15 feet above the water, and one had been involved in an accident last year.

Contrary to previous reports, the BAC said they will hold a beach cleanup on Thursday, July 5, the morning after the Fourth of July holiday, which sees heavy nighttime use of the beach and typically leaves plenty to pick up, with volunteers meeting at South Beach at 8 a.m.

For the public workshop session, Richie ran the show, beginning with a litany of things not allowed on the beach, including live shelling, dogs, chumming, vehicles strollers are fine, glass containers, sales or soliciting, aircraft, boat storage, lights shining beachward from May through October, and sand removal.

“We pay a lot of money to put that sand there,” she said.

Biologist Kristina Shope of the Florida FWC gave an update on shorebirds, including black skimmers, least terns and Wilson’s plovers. They are bouncing back after losing many nests to Tropical Storm Andrea, she said, with over 200 least tern chicks counted and black skimmers establishing new nests.

Mary Nelson, the city’s sea turtle monitor, gave her “hot off the beach” report on turtle nests. Marco Island currently has 61 sea turtle nests with eggs, along with 103 “false crawls,” where the mother turtle returned to the water without laying eggs. Marco, she said, has more false crawls than anywhere in Collier County, which she attributed to “armor” along the beaches, rocks, fencing or structures that blocked the turtles’ progress, along with the extremely wide beaches.

Roddy reported on the BAC’s beach survey, conducted online through Survey Monkey. Assistant Police Chief Dave Baer gave the law enforcement perspective on the beach, expanding the topic a little to cover police operations all over the island.

“Marco Island has an exceptionally low crime rate, and very few calls relate to the beach,” he told the gathering. “We see a lot of missing kids on the beach,” he said, with those situations “generally resolved in 15 minutes.” His department, he said, has put in over 200 hours of beach patrol so far in 2013. And he sought to counter the perception that the police just hand out tickets.

“We’re not always mean guys,” said Baer, saying that last year, the department issued 4,590 warnings compared to just 1,283 tickets. “We’re probably busier than you think we are,” he said.

Collier County’s Coastal Zone Management Director Gary McAlpin gave a recap of beach renourishment, with 80,000 cubic yards of sand added to the southern end of the island, along with erosion control structures in a completed project, and the ongoing work at the northern end, including laser grading. He also reminded the group that Coastal Zone Management employees are on the beach every morning before sunrise, raking and grooming it, and typically remove four to six cubic yards of trash from the beaches every day.

The BAC will meet for its next regular meeting on July 17.


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