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Longboat Key Wednesday, May 12, 2021 8 months ago

Longboat residents, leaders try to navigate boat-noise complaints

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State law complicates call for quiet when weekend revelers pump up the volume.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

For  years, Longboat Key leaders have tried to figure out solutions for north-end residents’ complaints about loud music from boats moored around Jewfish Key and north-end beaches.

This spring, the issue has arisen again, along with the volume and residents’ frustration levels. Town commissioners have heard complaints over the past few weeks from residents over what they insist is an untenable situation, particularly on weekends. Still, town leaders insist, there is no simple solution.

A Lands End Drive resident took this picture of fireworks coming from a boat on April 16.

“It’s noisy. It’s obnoxious,” resident James Haft said. “Two weekends ago, there was a particular boat that had an all-weekend rage party going on [that] kept the whole neighborhood up Friday night [with] disco lights and the stereo so loud that our windows were shaking in the house.”

On April 24, Longboat Key police received a report of fireworks launched from a vessel moored between Longboat Key and Jewish Key. Haft provided pictures and videos of similar instances. 

In that case, a land-based patrol officer coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard and was taken out to speak to the owner of a boat in the area, who denied launching the fireworks, police reports show.

Neighbor Pat Beavers insists neighbors aren’t seeking a “no-fun zone,” just a balance between revelers’ good-times and residents’ peace and quiet. Even with hurricane-proof windows at the Beavers’ home one Friday night, his 17-year-old son couldn’t sleep because of the noise.

“He plays soccer year-round, and he had an event the next day, and he came out and he said, ‘Dad, I just can’t sleep with this,’” Beavers said. “We actually had out-of-town guests at the time. My brother had made it down for the first time since the pandemic, and the whole house was up, so it was embarrassing. It was uncomfortable.”

At issue is the limits of town police authority on the water. In August 2016, the Florida Attorney General’s Office determined the Intracoastal Waterway is off limits for Longboat ordinances, though the landmass of Jewfish Key falls within Longboat Key’s municipal boundaries. 

Town marine patrol officers routinely issue warnings and some citations in the waters around the island, but most regularly, they involve safety-equipment violations or vessels creating wakes in slow-speed zones.

The most recent flurry of noise complaints prompted Commissioner BJ Bishop to speak up at the end of the May 3 Town Commission meeting. Newly installed Commissioner Maureen Merrigan likewise has heard complaints.

“The fact that we are limited because allegedly what the state says we can do is not a reason for us to sit on our hands, and so I would ask the town attorney and the town manager to find out how we solve the problem and how we give these people their homes back,” Bishop said. “Right now, they lock themselves in their houses because you can’t sit on the back porch. You can’t sit by your pool because the noise is hideous, and then this is all weekend every weekend.”

Boaters anchor on the weekends on the north end of Longboat Key.

The Longboat Key Police Department Marine Patrol Unit has tried to make its presence known by periodically patrolling the area. However, Longboat Key police have a total of two boats to patrol about 10.5 miles of shoreline on each side of the island.

“When our vessel is out, we have a lot of waterways, so depending on where it is, we obviously have high visibility patrol in the Jewfish and Beer Can Island area, and we will maintain that,” interim Police Chief George Turner said, adding that patrol officers can often respond quicker to noise complaints on land.

When not on duty, the town police coordinates with nearby law enforcement agencies, such as Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard. Likewise, the town’s marine unit often works with other agencies to respond to emergencies on the water.

Roth said she’s seen that when law enforcement patrols the area, boats will turn their music down. However, once law enforcement leaves, Roth said the loud music resumes to the “highest decibel level.”

“They do not go to these boats and hassle them,” Roth said. “I don’t see anything wrong with going up there, and saying, ‘Please turn the music down.’”

Roth and other neighbors mentioned how they believe speaker technology has improved over the past several years, which lets boat owners crank the music.

Boaters moored near Jewfish Key on Saturday afternoon.

Haft said he’d like to see law enforcement begin to issue warnings or citations.

“If they do that often enough, I think this problem would be solved,” Haft said.

Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier said he had reviewed the complaints of residents.

“The question may focus on what exactly is the Intracoastal Waterway for purposes of who has control?” Schneier said

Town Attorney Maggie Mooney suggested for commissioners to bring up potential solutions at a future Town Commission workshop.

“Our noise problem is a noise-on-the-water problem,” Mooney said. “It’s not a general noise problem on our island.”

Mooney proposed discussing the issue at the June 21 workshop meeting instead of the May 18 workshop.

“We are pretty tight on time for the May workshop,” Mooney said. “If that’s acceptable to the commission, we can get fully briefed and talk about some other ways to perhaps try to skin this cat again.”

 

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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