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Plan Commission willing to look at beach use by people

By Staff | Mar 29, 2012

The Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR) of the Sanibel Plan came under scrutiny by the Sanibel Planning Commission Tuesday, greeted by dozens of citizens concerned about proposed changes to a beach use study component.

Citizens agreed that the city and other wildlife agencies, such as J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, already monitor wildlife on the beaches, but no data is readily available about the pressure brought about by people using the beach. Residents said they had noticed an increase in the number of people using the beaches, including busloads of beachgoers being dropped off at access areas. There is also concern about the trash and litter they leave behind.

Specifically, the commission discussed a Planning Department proposal to change a requirement that the city “undertake a study to evaluate the carrying capacity of the beach for use by wildlife in order to determine where human activity significantly precludes the use of the beach habitat by indigenous and migratory species of wildlife.” Instead, the department wanted to change the focus to “development and redevelopment activities” precluding wildlife’s use of the beach habitat.

“Beaches are our crown jewels, there is no disagreement on that,” said Larry Schopp, a Committee of the Islands board member. “To focus on development and redevelopment might have been viable years ago, but beach property is fully developed now.”

The so-called beach carrying capacity study, part of the Sanibel Plan since 2005, had never been carried out by the city essentially for budgetary reasons during a down economy. The commissioners wavered a bit and expressed a desire to either take the study out of the Plan or change the study from a requirement to an option.

In the end, citizens urged commissioners to keep the study part of the Plan and find cost effective ways to get it done in order to have baseline data for future actions.

Paul Emilius attended the meeting and pitched the idea of photographically counting the number of people using the beaches. Emilius retired from GEOD Corp., which conducted such studies all over the world.

“It is not a cure-all, but it would be a start,” Emilius said. “If they can tell me what days and what times they feel the most people occupy the beaches I could fly a plane over the beaches and photograph it several times a day for several weeks.”

Using Emilius’ idea and drawing from a pool of willing Sanibel volunteers, commissioners agreed to carry that forward.

Commission chairman Michael Valiquette directed planning director James Jordan add the word “humans” to the Plan’s Policy 2.1 to state “The City shall use appropriate methods to sustain and manage the carrying capacity of the beach for use by humans and wildlife.”

The matter will be addressed at subsequent commission meetings and sent to the City Council.

The decision seemed to satisfy those residents who spoke on the issue.

Commissioners also approved the relocation of the Shore Haven residence, which has been listed on the city’s register of Historical Sites and Structures since 1992, from its Bird Lane address to the Historical Museum and Village. Museum president Alex Werner said the entire cost of the $150,000 project will be paid by the Museum located near City Hall.

Bicycle path safety issues were brought up by Valiquette, who said he has noticed on a daily basis that some bikers are not observing stop signs at intersections. He asked Mayor Kevin Ruane look into the matter with City Council, possibly beginning with an effort to educate the public about bike and motorist responsibilities.