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Longboat Key Monday, Oct. 14, 2019 1 month ago

Twin Shores on the way to turtle compliance

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Community working with Sea Turtle Conservancy to design, install new lighting.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

The residents of Twin Shores Beach and Marina had a problem.

Light from buildings, landscaping and even the landmark sign just across from the beach on Gulf of Mexico Drive attracted the attention of the town in the middle of sea-turtle nesting season. 

That attention landed the president of the community’s board of directors in front of Code Enforcement Magistrate Milan Brkich in Longboat Town Hall this week on three infractions — specifically Code 100.5 (A), (D) and  (G) — which all regulate how much and the type of light allowed to reach the beach between May 1 and Oct. 31. 

It was Brkich’s first hearing presiding over a new code enforcement arrangement that has more in common with a court hearing than the actions of the previous seven-member board. In the end, Brkich upheld the town’s contention that Twin Shores wasn’t meeting code requirements but levied no fines against the first-time offenders.

Still, something positive happened along the way.  

By Jan. 15, Twin Shores is contracted to have turtle-code compliant lighting ready for next season, designed and installed by experts at a fraction of the normal cost. Chris Elbon, the town’s Code Enforcement officer and the guy who discovered the violations in the first place, pointed John Brewer and the communites in the right direction. 

In partnership with the Gainesville-based Sea Turtle Conservancy, Twin Shores is on the way to a turtle-friendly revamp of its outdoor lighting. It will cost residents about $15,000, but the conservancy has already sent the community a check for $10,000 to pay for materials, and more is on the way. 

“I go on the beach and try to get down toward the ground to see what I can see,” said Brewer, a 22-year-resident of Twin Shores of the code’s basic tenet of no light visible from the beach. “Hopefully, this will be adequate.”

Representatives from the conservancy visited in July and assessed the community’s lighting needs and developed a turtle plan “this thick,” Brewer said, making an inch space between his thumb and pointer finger. “Their deal is no negotiation. If you want to do this, you can’t change their recommendations.”

Elbon said he thinks this might be the first instance of a light-case referral moving through the process toward implementation. The conservancy took part in a town lighting workshop, along with other groups. He has seen the group’s plan and initially agrees it meets town rules.

“It’s good to have these kinds of partnerships,” he said, of grant-based money that can help communities upgrade lighting.

Brewer said that it has been tough this summer dealing with a darkened streetside sign for some of the residents, even conceding to missing the turn once in a while along GMD. The lights can go back on at the end of the month, and work is expected to begin soon.

Elbon will be back when work is done for a reinspection. Twin Shores is scheduled to appear before Brkich in February to close the loop on compliance. 

“I’m glad to see you have a plans to address this issue,” Brkich said.

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