It can get loud out on the water with party music, revved boat engines and boisterous voices.
Can a municipality do anything about it when such noise reaches levels intolerable to residents?
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi issued an opinion in August declaring the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has jurisdiction involving noise restrictions over the entire Intracoastal Waterway.
The nonbinding opinion raised the issue of local municipality rights versus state rights in regulating vessel noise on the Florida Intracoastal Waterway.
Maggie D. Mooney-Portale, Longboat Key town attorney, said Bondi’s ruling was overbroad, noting the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway includes municipalities from Anclote Key near Tarpon Springs south to Fort Myers in five counties and dozens of towns and cities.
“Courts have repeatedly held regulations of nuisance sound as an inherent authority of local governments under the police power. Residents complain that noise emanating from the waterway can get out of control.”
- Longboat Key Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale
Longboat Key officials had asked for an advisory opinion from Bondi’s office on whether the town could regulate nonmotorized sounds from vessels in the Intracoastal Waterway. Blasting music around Jewfish Key was a key motivation for the request, according to Mooney-Portale.
Bondi’s informal opinion issued Aug. 2 was diametrically opposed to Mooney-Portale’s stance: “Local governments have no authority to enact, continue in effect or enforce ‘any ordinance or local regulation’ that regulates any vessel on the Florida Intracoastal Waterway.”
Bondi’s opinion doesn’t carry the weight of legal precedent but it is worth challenging, according to Mooney-Portale.
“Local governments have no authority to enact, continue in effect or enforce ‘any ordinance or local regulation’ that regulates any vessel on the Florida Intracoastal Waterway.”
- Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
Mooney-Portale was in Orlando lobbying against Bondi’s opinion Friday to 70 officials from around the state attending a Florida League of Cities meeting.
“Local governments can regulate sound on land within their jurisdiction,” according to the presentation Mooney-Portale made with St. Petersburg attorney Regina Kardash at the Florida League of Cities Growth Management and Economic Development Legislative Policy Committee meeting.
The FLC will only choose two legislative policy topics to place on its legislative agenda and, if the noise opinion is not chosen, another prominent venue to debate the issue has presented itself to Mooney-Portale on behalf of Longboat Key.
North Port Commissioner Linda Yates, president of the ManaSota League of Cities, invited Mooney-Portale to discuss the issue at the Nov. 10 MSLC meeting in Longboat Key.
“The AGO response certainly appears to have implications as it applies to any other municipality,” Yates said in her invitation.
Bondi’s informal opinion remains unavailable on the Attorney General’s website, according to Mooney-Portale.
Longboat Key’s municipal code rules noise illegal if it’s “plainly audible, an annoyance and a disturbance,” Mooney-Portale told the Longboat Observer in August.
An officer can issue a warning if the sound violation is plainly audible from the complainant’s property. If it’s not corrected within 15 minutes or if it happens again within the next year, the officer can issue a citation.
Bondi’s opinion would render those regulations moot around Jewfish Key.
The Longboat Key Police Department last issued a notice to appear to a boater on the shoal about two years ago, said Police Chief Pete Cumming. Music has not been an enforcement issue recently, even at the AquaPalooza, which drew roughly 40 boats to Jewfish Key, Cumming said.
“We've had a quiet period on the water since the opinion was published with no noise complaints being reported,” Cumming said.
Cumming has said he wants to make sure the town can formally cite vessels for violating town ordinances.