Cape rejects bridge fishing ban
After nearly four hours of debate Cape Coral City council rejected an ordinance to ban fishing on certain city bridges by a 5-3 vote.
The controversial proposal had strong backing from some residents – with one taking 45 minutes to illustrate his side – but was sharply protested by most fishermen.
Council didn’t believe the ordinance, brought forth by Councilmember Kevin McGrail, was a concrete solution to the proffered problem of fishermen littering, trespassing on other people’s property and the increasing threat of confrontation.
“I’m having a hard time reconciling this as a solution,” Councilmember Rana Erbrick said. “I’m not sure an ordinance will fix this.”
Mayor John Sullivan asked to rise at the beginning of the debate those who were on what side. When nearly everyone arose, council knew it was in for a long night.
Old Burnt Store resident Nate Bliss alone gave the 45-minute presentation, which featured pictures of litter and trespassers caught in the act.
“There’s an understanding gap. They’re not aware of anyone who has good understanding as to why north residents are so for this ordinance,” Bliss said.
Richard Jacoby, an 18-year resident on Old Burnt Store, said things were fine up until the last four or five years.
“I shouldn’t have to have people on my property,” Jacoby said. “You say the fishermen’s rights are being tamped on. What about my rights?”
The fishermen, who were heavily outnumbered, empathized with the residents, but said a ban was not an answer.
“I’m sorry what you’ve been through, but we need to do something to help fishermen and landowners,” said Richard Leon. “Everything I’ve heard we have laws against already.”
However, John Rossano, of Fort Myers, cast a darker cloud around the residents, suggesting elitism.
“This is a small interest group of people with $300,000 to $400,000 homes. These people live along these roads and the fishing is on city property,” Rossano said before clashing with Councilmember Marty McClain to bring the police in to a round of boos.
After two hours of public input, city officials weighed in.
“I’m hearing ‘damn the fishermen.’ Assumptions are being made,” McClain said. “Why spend tens and thousands of dollars for a $50 ticket? I can’t find the glue in this.”
“I didn’t know to the extent you’ve suffered, but I don’t have the answer,” Councilmember Derrick Donnell said. “The answer isn’t to ban it.”
Police Chief Jay Murphy said the ordinance would enhance the force’s ability to police, but it wouldn’t make the problem go away.
“What we have is an attractive nuisance. We need to take a holistic approach,” Murphy said. “Bridges need to be redesigned to take away that nuisance.”
As the negative testimonials continued, pro-ordinance residents began to file out. By the time to vote was tallied, few remained.
Council members John Carioscia, Lenny Nesta and McGrail were the lone votes for the ordinance, which was voted upon shortly before 11 p.m.
“This is the best I could bring forth. Those who vote no had better have a Plan B,” McGrail said. “This can’t help but get worse. The residents have you on the clock.”
Many Plan B’s were offered. Beside those suggested by Murphy, Leon suggested an “Adopt a Bridge” program to help with the littering.
Bliss suggested using Sirenia Vista and Tropicana parks, which were suggested as fishing alternatives when the ordinance first reached council. Charlie Myers suggested using the land the city purchased early in the day near Matlacha as a fishing paradise.
Anything but this, the council said.
“This doesn’t address the issue. It’s a broken policy,” Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said. “There are many alternatives to a ordinance with no teeth.”