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Beachside traffic catches Council headlights

May 10, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

After receiving continuous complaints from residents, council members are trying to get answers about beach vehicular traffic.

Many residents have voiced their weariness of seeing various "official" vehicles buzzing up and down the sand outside their homes.

"The complaints are constant," said Council Member Joanne Shamp. She said a resident watched two Public Works staff empty a trash can eight times in eight hours on Sterling Avenue.

Environmental technician Rae Blake did a round-up of all the vehicles that had permission to be on the beach in the Land Development Code: Beach and Street Enforcement (BASE) has two for daily patrols, beach condition monitoring and turtle season monitoring; Public Works has two for trash pickup, one for boardwalk maintenance, a tractor for repairs, and permission for additional trash pickup during season; Lee County Sheriff's Department, one for emergencies as needed; Fort Myers Beach Fire District, one for emergencies as needed; Lee County Parks, two for beach raking and sea turtle monitoring; and the State Department of Environmental Protection has one for monitoring the beaches following a dredging project. Then there are private entities. There are nine vehicles allowed under the beach furniture vending permit, used to set up and remove furniture and transport handicapped customers to and from the beach; 11 vehicles permitted for jet ski transportation; and eight vehicles for beach raking. In total, 40 vehicles.

Blake said the LDC places restrictions on what times furniture, jetskis and transporters can be on the beach. Jetskis aren't allowed between 9 p.m.and 9 a.m., and furniture is banned between 9 a.m.and 7 a.m. During turtle nesting season, no movement is allowed until after 9 a.m.

Not only is the vehicle traffic an issue for safety, it can cause environmental concerns as well. Frequent vehicles can compact the sand, which is then dangerous for sea turtle hatchlings trying to dig their way out of a nest.

"Any weight that you put on the sand is compressing it, making it hard for the sand to move around," Blake said. Besides turtles, there are creatures below the surface that are unseen, and they can get squished when the sand is compacted.

Shorebirds who are migrating and nesting at Fort Myers Beach can also be negatively affected. If a flock should get "flushed", or scared into flying away, they're expending energy they need to be saving for the next leg of migration, Blake said.

"They need to be fattening themselves to continue their trip," she said.

In addition to the effect on wildlife, vehicles in general are mechanical and could leak or break down while on the beach, Blake said. Oil spills are not good for the beach and it can be difficult to contain break downs.

"The beach is not a secondary road for Public Works," Shamp said. "They should be using the side streets."

Mayor Dennis Boback said he never sees less than two town staffers in one vehicle.

New town manager Roger Hernstadt suggested Blake should shadow town staff for a while to see who is driving on the beach for what purpose and if it is the most effective means of travel. Then she could make recommendations about how to improve the vehicular traffic and environmental impacts.

"I'm going to report my findings to council. That's the first step, we'll move forward from here and see what we're going to do," Blake said.



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