For Ann Roth and many other north-end residents, weekends are no longer relaxing.
When she and other north-end residents in Sleepy Lagoon, Whitney Beach and the Longbeach Village open a window or step outside, their ears are hit with loud bass emanating from Sarasota Bay.
“There’s rap, loud rock and loud country music and now loud horns all blaring together,” Roth told the Longboat Key Town Commission at its March 23 regular workshop. “There’s no way we can be on our porches or even open our windows when this music is blaring.”
The music is coming from boats that anchor around the popular Jewfish Key sandbar in Sarasota Bay near Longboat Pass on weekends and even some weekdays in season.
Making matters worse, the sandbar is more populated now than ever before because groin construction on the north end of the island prohibits boaters from anchoring off the shore of Beer Can Island until later this year.
“No one minds people having their own music equipment and people having fun,” Roth said. “But their boats are putting out music at such a high decibel level that it’s a huge nuisance.”
Roth requested a higher police presence “and anything else you can come up with.”
Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming told the Longboat Observer his department “is fighting an uphill battle” with the issue.
The department has just two boats: a larger Intrepid vessel that acts as the primary boat and an older, smaller Skiff model that can’t be on the water on a consistent basis because of its age.
“We have only one boat we can really rely on,” Cumming said.
Cumming said most weekends, though, two of his four marine-trained officers are out on both boats, passing out approximately half a dozen noise warning citations and asking boaters to turn down their music.
“We’re trying to be there as often as we can,” Cumming said. “But we’re fighting the tide to keep this from continuing.”
Another issue with noise pollution on the water is a jurisdictional one.
“It’s easy to enforce alcohol violations,” Cumming said. “But noise is subjectional, and sometimes, the boats are sitting in Manatee County waters.”
Cumming said he’s having ongoing discussions with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to find a better noise pollution process.
Town staff and Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale are also working to craft a revised noise pollution ordinance that measures a certain decibel level that would give the town’s ordinance more teeth when police warn and fine violators.
“Until we enact something entirely different, our hands are tied, and we have to hope warnings get boaters to turn down their music,” Cumming said.
Further complicating matters, the sandbar is submerged at high tide, which means the it’s under the jurisdiction of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation.
“FWC may have a role in this as well, and we don’t know if they will enforce noise issues on a sandbar that is sometimes submerged,” said Town Manager Dave Bullock.
Commissioner Phill Younger told fellow commissioners at the workshop that he knows how to fix the problem, but the solution requires bureaucratic permitting hurdles.
“I’m looking for sand, and this town is looking for sand (for portions of the eroded shoreline),” Younger said. “If that sandbar was smaller, less people would be out there.”
Bullock, an avid boater, said he has been surprised with the sophistication of boat speakers over the past couple of years.
“It’s very loud, and the sound travels,” Bullock said.
Cumming said he recently witnessed the boats in the area and was shocked with the noise level.
“It’s always been popular to throw down your anchor and get in waste-high water all day,” Cumming said. “But it’s really crowded out there, and it gets ugly. And they play music I just don’t want to hear, so I feel for our residents.”