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Sea grass damage vs. boat dock ban

By Staff | May 27, 2010

On June 8, the Planning Commission will consider approving an ordinance that will end the 17-year-old ban on boat docks located in the Beach Bay Zone, despite the statement from the city’s Department of Natural Resources that — to at least some degree — the presence of those structures is damaging to ecologically-sensitive sea grasses.

Back in 1993, Sanibel ceased to allow boat docks to be located in the Beach Bay Zone — which extends along the waters of San Carlos Bay and Tarpon Bay west of the Lighthouse to the end of Woodring’s Point — due to concerns of damaging sea grasses growing along the shoreline.

But why would any legislative panel of a city so boastful of its environmental mission consider making such a seemingly controversial move? To put it very simply, the city would like to avoid any legal battles which may come from homeowners with waterfront lots adjacent to the subject zone.

According to the City Attorney, Ken Cuyler, owners of property with an access to navigable waterways have a legal right to access those waters, with a boat or other personal watercraft.

During Tuesday’s commission meeting, one lawyer representing several affected property owners listened intently to the ongoings of the session, which included modifications to the city’s zoning laws specific to docks, boat davits, boat lifts and mooring pilings.

Also speaking at the meeting was Dr. Rob Loflin, director of Sanibel’s Department of Natural Resources, who stated that installing boat docks in the Beach Bay Zone would disturb sea grasses present within those waters. However, through certain considerations added to the amended ordinance, they hoped to "minimize the environmental footprint of the (boat) docks."

We understand why city leaders almost two decades ago enacted a ban on boat docks within the Beach Bay Zone: they did so to give those marine habitat- and nutrient-providing sea grasses a better chance not just to survive, but thrive. However, it seems curious that without a single report on the current state of the affected area sea grasses — one which might state that 17 years of protection has been a benefit, or perhaps no benefit, to those organisms — that the commission would even consider eliminating the restriction.

Planners are scheduled to conduct a second public hearing on the issue in less than two weeks, which may or may not include a status report regarding the affected undersea vegetation. We would urge the city to look deeper into the matter, investigating if continuing the ban on boat docks within the Beach Bay Zone is necessary or if the proper considerations and/or conditions have been scripted into the proposed ordinance amendments.

We are sure somebody from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Commission has an opinion on this subject. Perhaps somebody from Tarpon Bay Explorers or the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has some expertise related to this matter. Shouldn’t they be invited to take part in the discussion?

The ban has already been in effect for 17 years. What’s a few more days here or there going to do… except assure the residents of this island that all due diligence has been accounted for? The city shouldn’t push this ordinance forward without at least a bit more investigation. We think it’ll be worth it.

— Reporter editorial