BY MARCY SHORTUSE – As the tourist season cools down and tarpon season heats up, an outsider would think that things would be pretty quiet around here. It sounds logical, but wait.
Look, there in the distance, coming toward us. It’s our old friends, drama and controversy! Hey guys, how are you doing?
Right now there are three hot topics of discussion in Boca Grande circles: Weight limits on the bridge, parking on Gilchrist and shark fishermen on the beach. As a newspaper writer I can tell you I have appreciated drama and controversy, as it gives us something to write about other than mango recipes and end-of-season sales. But the logical part of me, which is usually a bit stronger, wants to at least try to clarify the meat of these issues so people’s curiosity and angst can be quelled.
“What can we do about this?”
“This is offensive to me!”
“People shouldn’t be allowed to do that.”
These are phrases so many people use lately. It’s within our nature as a mammal to protect our home from external annoyances or threats. And what we perceive as a threat or a nuisance, we perceive to be a threat and/or nuisance to all.
In other words, if a herd of people park their cars on the green space in front of our home, we think everyone should be offended by it. If a group of “outsiders” monopolize beach accesses for days at a time, we think everyone is offended. If we watch millions and millions of dollars being spent on a new bridge system for the purpose of making travel from the mainland to the island safe, and the State of Florida certifies that those bridges are safe for heavy vehicles carrying up to 80,000 pounds in weight to cross, we think it’s logical to let 80,000 pound trucks cross the bridge. Doesn’t everybody?
That’s what “we” think.
At what point does an individual’s rights get in the way of the “common good?”
And who in the heck is “we?”
Shark fishermen come to Boca Grande beaches and spend the night fishing for sharks. They’ve been doing it for years. Sometimes they fish for sharks during the day, too. Sometimes they’re at the south end of the island, by the lighthouse, but most recently they set up at 1st Street beach access. They were there for days, yes.
There was a lot of speculation. Was what they were doing legal? Were they endangering the kids who swam there? Where were they going to the bathroom? Lots of questions came with the shark fishermen, and they were valid.
But then there’s this, taken from Florida State Statute:
379.105 Harassment of hunters, trappers, or fishers.
(1) A person may not intentionally, within a publicly or privately owned wildlife management or fish management area or on any state-owned water body:
(a) Interfere with or attempt to prevent the lawful taking of fish, game, or nongame animals by another.
(b) Attempt to disturb fish, game, or nongame animals or attempt to affect their behavior with the intent to prevent their lawful taking by another.
(2) Any person who violates this section commits a Level Two violation under s. 379.401.
That means that no matter how badly I’d like to sit peering over the seawall at the shark fishermen like the little French soldier in Monty Python’s Holy Grail and tell them to go boil their bottoms, I can’t. I can get in trouble for it, because I would be violating their state-given right to fish there.
Let’s flip the coin again. I read a really good comment on the shark fishing controversy on Facebook. A wise woman said, “The access were opened up so that EVERYONE could use the beaches. Chum lines in the water costs everyone else the privilege of enjoying the water. The county commissioners who opened up the beaches should jump back in and preserve that ideal.”
Well, that’s true as well. It isn’t pleasant to swim in chum-infested waters, I’m sure. And one beachgoer last Saturday told me there were children swimming right where the shark fishermen were holding court. Fort Myers Beach passed legislation specifically stating that you couldn’t chum the water in places where people routinely came to swim. But we don’t have that here.
While, the thought of tenting on the beach sounds really cool here’s the deal – you really can’t. As much as I’d love to test the patience of local law enforcement and try it, the law basically says you can set up a shelter on the beach but not a tent. And you can sit on the beach at night but not sleep there. You can’t have a fire on a public beach, we know that for sure (even though I’ve seen a rare few, years back when I lived by the beach at 12th Street), and certainly not during turtle nesting season.
If you are sitting on the beach at night and are diligently “attending” anything you have sitting on the beach around you, you are expected to be able to move those things if you see a sea turtle coming up to nest. So I guess it’s not illegal. If you get up and leave things on the beach “unattended,” though, you can get a fine. And if you have lights on after dusk (whether it’s the light from a fire or the light from a headlamp), you can get fined.
The fishermen didn’t have tents set up when I saw them; they were using those “sun huts” people use on the beach. Their campsite was clean and orderly each time I went. That doesn’t make me like the situation, but I have to be objective.
I have heard people talk about the messes the anglers have left, including dead fish and rotten chum. Some have said their dogs got sick after eating things from the beach there and had to go to the vet. But nothing the anglers did was illegal, at least under our island’s current laws.
And having dogs off-leash on the beach is, technically, illegal.
There are “perks” we have out here when things slow down and the people go away. So unless we want local law enforcement to start writing citations for dogs at large on the beach, or for drinking wine on the beach at sunset, or for illegal parking, or for illegal plantings on public right-of-ways, we need to do a little give-and-take.
Let me remind you all of a time about five or six years ago when a whole herd of off-island Lee County officers came out to the island and were pulling folks over left and right. It was almost like sting operation, and about 40 or 50 people were given traffic and equipment violations, two or three people were arrested for pot. Everyone on the island was mad about it.
The moral of the story is, the way we do things around here is different from other places. Don’t go asking for more laws or more enforcement unless you’re prepared to have one of your beloved rights taken away. Maybe you’ll have some law enforcement officers you don’t know on a first-name basis pulling you over.
Then there’s the Gilchrist situation. We are all sick to death of it. We are tired of Lee County commissioners not having the chutzpah to make a decision on our behalf; we’re tired of worrying about it. The facts are the facts: We’ve always parked there. If you compare the percentage of people who want to change the parking rules on Gilchrist to the percentage of people who think it’s fine the way it is, it’s about a 20/80 split. I’ve talked to just about everyone who lives here year-round, and that’s just how it is.
There are some really nice people who live on Gilchrist, and I have given every opportunity to listen to them and try to put myself in their position. I can have a decent conversation or debate with those people, and it’s easy to do that because there is respect involved in the conversation.
There is an art to being objective and diplomatic, and it starts with respect.
Yes, parking gets hectic there for three months out of the year. Yes, the grass dies during those months. But people who are here year-round (the ones that are “no one” in the eyes of many snowbirds) see it as a three-month problem; because that’s all it is.
Don’t lie about it in letters to the editor. Yes, lots of notes have been placed on car windshields – I am in possession of a couple of them. The people who gave them to me are not liars; they are fine people who have no reason to lie. The two people I know who were accosted on the median were not lying. These things happened.
No locals “ginned” anything up.
There are only three or four of you on Gilchrist who are ruining it for the rest of your group, you know who you are. It makes no sense at all that you chose to do this. Quoting legislation and presenting multiple talking points doesn’t matter. Blindly and doggedly pursuing a point past its exhaustion may have made you millions of dollars in your lifetime, but on Gasparilla Island where everyone is everyone else’s neighbor, it only makes you enemies.
If you’re going to leave a note on someone’s car, be a man and sign it. Tell them the statute they are breaking while you’re at it. If you want to preserve “green space” somewhere, why not boycott the “mcmansions” being put up on the beachfront property downtown? Or remove the plantings in front of your residences on the county easements? I am quite sure the only reason county commissioners gave you permission to plant there was because people had plenty of room to park on Gilchrist.
And I’ve said this one before and I’ll say it again – assaulting people on the “green lung of Boca Grande” will someday get you hurt. Denying your actions only makes it worse, and it’s sad. A decision needs to be made about Gilchrist parking, and soon. By someone.
Maybe “we” can make it. Marcy Shortuse is the editor of the Boca Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.