Commissioners have yet to consider an ordinance, but discussions have continued.
This month marked the second time Longboat Key town commissioners have heard about proposed sea turtle protections.
Planning, Zoning and Building Director Allen Parsons presented to commissioners at Tuesday’s workshop meeting about the recommendations his staff has compiled. Parsons said the town’s current ordinance has been in effect since 1987, and applies during the sea turtle nesting season from May 1 through Oct. 31.
“Primarily what it’s addressing is lighting and reducing the amount of lightning out onto Gulf of Mexico beach, and also addressing obstructions,” Parsons said.
The Town Commission has yet to consider a specific ordinance on the marine protection proposals. They include window tinting for beachfront properties, regulating exterior sources of artificial light, prohibiting beach furniture to be within 5 feet of marked marine turtle nests, adding language to explain the permitting review process, adding an inspection process for seaward developments, allowing the use of permitted motorized vehicles to retrieve beach furniture on the beach, prohibiting temporary lights such as lanterns or tiki torches, allowing safe storage of portable recreational equipment at night, adding a recreation-use agreement to avoid having people leave beach furniture on the beach and requiring beach furniture to be stacked.
“You don’t have an ordinance in front of you on purpose,” Town Manager Tom Harmer told commissioners. “This is really the policy-level discussion.”
The reason the town is proposing turtle protections is because of Longboat Key’s increasing number of disorientations. Data provided by the town showed the town had a yearly average of 175 disorientations from 2017-2020, which is an increase from a yearly average of 147 from 2013-2016.
Plus, Longboat Key has a higher disorientation rate compared to nearby municipalities, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data.
Disorientation happens when artificial lighting disrupts the ability of adult sea turtles or hatchlings to find their way to nesting sites or back to the surf.
“When there is artificial lighting, it can have the turtles heading away from [the] intended direction and they’re making it into the water,” Parsons said.
On Tuesday, At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop asked Parsons and FWC biologist Tonya Long why Longboat Key has seen much higher disorientation rates compared to nearby areas.
“This list [of proposals] that you just heard is just a sampling of all the things that can impact [marine life] whether or not turtles are disorienting,” Long said.
Long said disorientation specifically is a lighting-related issue.
One of the potential resolutions to fixing the beachfront-lighting issues is to change the town’s window tinting. Specifically, town staff is recommending the change to the percentage of light that is allowed to be transmitted from 45% to a recommended value of 15%. If implemented, the change would be mandatory for new construction or replacement windows.
Other Gulf Coast municipalities like Holmes Beach and Fort Myers Beach have recently implemented similar window-tinting measures.
Longboat Key town commissioners and town staff are still considering whether there will be a differentiation for window-tinting requirements between tourism and residential uses.
However, Longboat Key Turtle Watch Vice President Cyndi Seamon said the disorientations are happening on the entire 10.5-mile island.
“Disorientation rates, as we can see, are on the entire Key,” Seamon said. “They are not just tourism locations.”
Citing conversations with Sarasota-based Universal Window Solutions, Parsons said the darker-tinted windows would not cost more than lighter ones. Universal Window Solutions works with six different window manufacturers, according to Parsons.
Still, District 5 Commissioner Ed Zunz was among the commissioners who wanted to hear an expert provide public testimony about no added costs for window tinting.
“I would like to get a manufacturer of a material to testify to tell us some of these nuances and verify it for us,” Zunz said. “And, I think we can’t rely upon on third-hand information. It’s too important, what we’re doing.”
Parsons said he thinks someone from Universal Window Solutions could provide commissioners more information about window tinting costs at a future meeting.
Zunz also pointed out that it could void a window’s warranty if someone were to add a sheet over it so it abides by the proposal.
With the start of the turtle-nesting season in May, Seamon is hopeful the town can get the changes approved before then.
“I think the town is going in the right direction,” Seamon said. “We just need to get the little loopholes that we’ve created with our last ordinance, tighten [them] up a little bit.”
Parsons led a public virtual workshop in December 2020 about the proposals. He initially presented to commissioners in a November 2020 workshop meeting. Parsons said the town also sent physical mailings to every beachfront property in Longboat Key for input.
A follow-up discussion is scheduled for the March 22 Town Commission workshop meeting. Commissioners could then consider an ordinance at a regular meeting.
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