Panama City Beach TDC Meeting Notes – Sea Turtle Lighting Ordinance – cont.

by December 22, 2007 • 5 comments

Notes from the December 21, 2007 TDC Turtle Lighting Ordinance Workshop

The December 19th meeting reconvened with 8 board members present.  Gary Walsingham was absent.

Board attorney Doug Sale advised the board he felt they had three possible courses of action.  The first option was to approve draft ordinance 12.20-1 that is a refined version of his 2.18.2007 draft.  12.20-1 provides for some limited grandfathering of existing light sources for economic reasons regardless of whether they meet the public safety exceptions in the draft. However, Sale advised that U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service communicated to him that the limited grandfathering proposal included in this version is unacceptable.  The second option was to approve draft ordinance 12.20-2 which is acceptable to the Service.  12.20-2 removes the limited grandfathering clause and instead provides for a extended compliance period until May 1, 2013.  Sale advised that the third option was to do nothing.

Sale also reiterated that not recommending an ordinance acceptable to the Service would likely put further beach renourishment projects (including the scheduled 2008 program) in jeopardy. However, Sale explained that there is some uncertainty about whether the Service has the statutory authority to require a lighting ordinance as a condition of our beach renourishment.

Yanni Patronis expressed concern about whether passing a lighting ordinance for beachfront property would result in further revisions that include non-beachfront property that may be found to have an effect on the turtles. Sale responded that he did not feel this was the case because the Service would not be able to make a connection between non-beachfront lights and renourishment.

Mike Bennett asked why the board was not also considering including nest relocation in the ordinance.  Lorna Patrick, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, advised that they no longer considered relocation an acceptable solution for lighting issues.  Patronis explained that he felt that PCB was an excellent location for relocations since our tourist season coincides with the nesting season.  Patrick stated that relocation would not be needed if ordinance 12.20-2 passed.

Marty McDaniel asked Patrick whether the Service will agree to look at other options(e.g. relocation), rather than non-beachfront lighting, in the event that regulation of beachfront lighting was found to not be enough to protect the turtles.  Patrick advised that she could not speak for Service but expressed confidence that no further action would be required if 12.20-2 passed.

Gayle Oberst explained that she was worried about the costs of compliance for all beachfront property owners, not just commercial businesses.

Buddy Wilkes asked whether it was possible to increase the bed tax to help cost-share compliance costs with private property owners.  Sale explained that this would be possible.  CVB resident Dan Rowe also suggested that the proceeds of the current 3rd beach renourishment cent could also be used.

The floor was then opened up for public comment.  Julian Bennett discussed other alternatives that could be explored instead of passing a lighting ordinance.

Julie Hilton expressed her belief that the proposed ordinances would not meet the goal of helping the turtles.  She referenced Wednesday’s testimony of the wildlife and lighting experts whose appearance her company facilitated.  She reported that the compliance cost of draft 12.20-1 for her four hotels would be $5 million which would be economically disastrous for her company.  She did, however, express that she could agree with draft 12.20-2 or her own draft that she then distributed to the board.

Charles Hilton expressed that the 5 year compliance period in draft 12.20-1 could not be met for his properties since the problems were unfixable.  He stated that rebuilding was the only option.  Hilton also advised against the board passing an ordinance for appearance purposes that they did not expect to be enforced.

Betty Briard, a property owner in Aquavista, suggested that the board either postpone the issue for further study(especially due to the fact that new drafts were just distributed today) or decide to challenge the Service.  She also expressed her opinion that the individual owners in Aquavista would likely ignore any ordinance that passed just like they ignore rules passed by their own property owner’s association.  Briard also questioned how much the TDC was spending  on this process of considering a lighting ordinance.

Doug Gilmore from the Driftwood Lodge and Osprey Motel discussed the nests that were located behind his properties this past season.  He explained that he believed that 100% of the hatchlings successfully reached the water.

Diane Brown asked the board to ignore Wednesday’s assertions by Dr. Fletemeyer and lighting designer Robert Laughlin that the Service was relying on untruths.  Brown disagreed with any assertion that the public would be disappointed with an ordinance being passed.  In support, she referred to the 2002 West End Pilot Turtle Protection Ordinance which she claimed continues to be supported by the community at large.  Brown also stated that it was her belief that the costs of compliance being quoted by some property owners were exaggerated.  She also suggested that if the Board decides to allow compliance through May 2013 that they require property owners to submit a plan of compliance no later than May 2009.  She also suggested that any discussion about the option of nest relocation be discontinued.

Lighting contractor Terry Selders explained that many older buildings on the beach could not possibly be retrofitted to comply with the proposed ordinances.

Robert Winston suggested that the Board not recommend a new lighting ordinance.  He expressed concerns about public safety, especially involving our spring break visitors.

After the public comments, Gayle Oberst expressed her support of draft 12.20-1.  Oberst made a motion providing that the board agrees to recommend that the Bay County Commission and the  Panama City Beach City Council enact ordinances based on draft 12.20-1.  The motion was seconded by Mike Nelson and passed by a vote of 5-2.  Chairman Phillips departed prior to the vote
and the Patronis and Rick Russell cast the dissenting votes.  Neither Patronis, nor Russell, made any comments concerning the motion.

Audience member Diana Brown then asked what the effect would be on the 2002 Pilot Ordinance.  Attorney Sale directed the question to Bay County Attorney Terrell Arline who advised that that decision would be up to the County Commission.

Editorial by Bryan J. Durta:

It is my opinion that the Bay County Commission and the Panama City Beach City Council should reject the TDC’s recommendation and instead enact Turtle Protection Lighting Ordinances based on draft 12.20-2.  This draft was prepared by TDC’s own attorney after considering both the needs of the community and the desires of the federal government.

Are the Hiltons, Julian Bennett, and their experts correct that the lighting ordinance desired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would result in few additional turtles reaching maturity and that better alternatives exist?  Probably, but is it really wise for Bay County to take on the state and federal government which fund the majority of our beach renourishment costs?  And what will be the costs of this legal battle?  Are the property owners who oppose a complying ordinance going to form a co-op to pay the county’s legal expenses?  Will the national press brand us as a environmentally unfriendly community?  If so, how will this effect tourism?

Does this community really want to put our beach renourishment project at risk based on financial concerns expressed by just a few property owners? More property owners expressed concern when cutting Spring Break funding was on that table than expressed concern over the lighting ordinance.  And are these financial concerns being exaggerated?  Phillip Griffits, Jr. of the Sugar Sands Beach Resort explained to the Board that his property spent $30,000 bringing his 70 beachfront rooms and public facilities in complying with the West End Pilot Ordinance.  While he acknowledges that he is probably not in 100% compliance due to conflicting public safety laws, he believes that the Service considers him to be a model property that has sufficiently complied.

While every property is unique, I believe that further investigation is needed before accepting the assertion of Paradise Found Resorts that they would need to spend over 14 times more per room to comply than the Sugar Sands did.  And what will be the financial loss to the community if the Service does succeed in preventing any future beach renourishment on Panama City Beach?  We need to remember that the Service potentially has the ability to prevent any renourishment even if we have the financial means to pay for it ourselves.  And are the concerns about public safety valid?  Are turtle-friendly communities such as Rosemary Beach and Watercolor having crime and safety issues that are just not being reported in the media?  And what about all of the new accommodations on Panama City Beach that have been built over the last 10 years in compliance with the turtle-friendly lighting requirements?  Are they having more public safety problems than the older properties?

While I agree that government regulation is getting out of hand, it is just not wise for Bay County to take on the responsibility for fighting the federal government on this issue.  It is in our best economic interest to follow the lead of vast majority of Florida’s beachfront counties and enact a turtle lighting ordinance that has the support of the federal government.

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1 MJ December 23, 2007 at 12:36 am

This is off topic…..but…

Jason, I enjoy your site. Thanks for keeping us up to date on what’s going on in PCB.
To you and everyone: Have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

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2 Jason December 27, 2007 at 9:59 pm

Thank you very much for the kind words.

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3 Butch Metcalf December 17, 2008 at 7:40 pm

Julie Hilton has it right on this one.

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4 HARRY TICE December 18, 2008 at 6:08 pm

MRS. HILTON HAS IT RIGHT AND SO DO YOU BUTCH. THE ONLY PROBLEM IS THE OWNERS OF A MAJORITY OF THESE CONDOS DO NOT GET TO VOTE IN OUR LOCAL ARENA, SO THE OWNERS ARE THE LAST ONE HEARD. THIS IS MY FIRST EVER “BLOG” AND PROBABLY THE LAST I AM JUST TO BUSY. I AGREE WITH THE OWNER OF THIS SITE THAT YEAH IT WOULD BE GREAT TO HAVE MORE REVENUE BUT THEY JUST DO NOT GET IT. BILLY KINSAUL, WHO I VOTED FOR AND WOULD AGAIN WAS DRAGGED INTO THIS SAYING THAT HE WOULD SATISFY THE COMPLAINTS ABOUT NON-COMPLIANCE. WELL TO MY REPUBLICAN FRIEND I SAY THE STATE HAS NOT BE ABLE TO DO IT FOR YEARS, BUT LET’S GIVE HIM A CHANCE AND HOPE HE DOES. I HAVE HAD THREE OWNERS OVER THE LAST THREE MONTHS–OLDER FOLKS THAT HAVE TAKEN THEIR UNITS OFF THE PROGRAM SADLY, BUT I KNOW WHY THEY ARE AND THEY KNOW THAT I KNOW. WE COLLECT THE TAXES AND ALL THEIR FRIENDS HAVE BEEN TELLING THEM AND COMPETING WITH THEM IN SAVINGS AND RENTING THEIR UNIT MORE OFTEN BECAUSE THEY DO NOT PAY ANY TAXES. I WILL BE LETTING ALL MY OWNERS KNOW WE TRIED TO REALLY EXPLAIN TO FOLKS WHAT THE REAL DEAL WAS AND WHEN THEY HAVE TO KEEP LOWERING THEIR RATES EVEN MORE WITH ANOTHER INCREASE TO LEVERAGE OUT WITH THOSE IN NON-COMPLIANCE ALL I KNOW TO DO IS GIVE THEM THE NAMES OF THOSE FOLKS WHO PUSHED HARD TO GET IT THROUGH AND THEIR MANAGEMENT COMPANIES THEY ARE WITH. YOU SHOULD PROBABLY DO THE SAME, I’VE HEARD OTHER COMPANIES ARE GOING TO DO THAT. HOW MANY OF THESE FOLKS MAKING ALL THESE DECISIONS ACTUALLY OWN OR HAVE EVER OWNED A CONDO? WELL, THAT VOTE THAT WAS PLAYED OUT IN PUBLIC WAS ALREADY MADE AWHILE BACK AND I DON’T THINK THE COMMISSIONERS HAVE THE WILLPOWER TO ASK FOR ALITTLE MORE INPUT AND RATIONALIZATION BEFORE THEY APPROVE IT. BUT YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST, BY THIS TIME NEXT YEAR THERE WILL BE EVEN MORE NON-COMPLIANCE THAN THERE IS NOW AND THE COFFERS WILL BE HEAVIER FROM THE PEOPLE WHO DO THE RIGHT THING NOT BECAUSE THE BEACH IS PRETTIER OR THE AIRPORT IS FINISHED (WHICH I SUPPORT 110%) BUT BECAUSE OWNERS WHO DO NOT DO WHAT THE REST OF US DO, STRUGGLING AS THEY ARE WILL OPT OUT OF PAYING THEIR TAXES. I JUST HATE IT FOR THE REST OF US—HARRY TICE

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