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Longboat Key Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2019 3 years ago

Court upholds Longboat's fine against resort operator over turtle rules

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Code enforcement action levied $3,000 fine against Zota Beach Resort in the deaths of 15 turtle hatchlings in hot tub.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

A Circuit Court judge in Manatee County has upheld a $3,000 fine against the operators of Zota Beach Resort in connection with Longboat Key’s Marine Turtle Protection Ordinance, court records show.

The fine stems from an Aug. 2, 2018 incident in which 15 baby sea turtles were found dead in the skimmer of the resort’s hot tub, records show.

According to a report filed by the town’s Code Enforcement Officer Chris Elbon, interior lights from the resort on that night were visible from the beach, and that the resort had “spotlights, uplights (or) decorative lighting illuminating landscaping that failed to utilize (Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) approved bulbs.”

Eleven days later, the town’s Code Enforcement Board found that Oprock Longboat Fee LLC, the operator of the resort, committed a “irreparable and irreversible’’ violation of the town’s rules and ordered the $3,000 fine.

Oprock in September appealed the decision to Circuit Court, where the case was heard in February. The opinion upholding the town’s fine was handed down on July 25.

It’s the second such ruling to go the town’s way this year.

A similar appeal was filed by Inn on the Beach Association Inc. following a $2,000 fine in connection with lighting conditions that the town said violated regulations intended to protect sea turtles.

That fine was upheld in February.

Generally, beaches during sea turtle nesting season, which runs from May through October are subject to rules banning most visible light. Turtle hatchlings instinctively follow moonlight to the sea and can be disoriented by light sources upland of their nests.

In both cases, the town successfully defended two points raised by the beachside resorts: that the fines were excessive and that turtle-protection rules were written unconstitutionally vague.

Both judges rejected those arguments.

The maximum fine allowed under state law for such code violations is $5,000.

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