Panama City Beach TDC Meeting Notes – Sea Turtle Lighting Ordinance

Notes of the December 19, 2007 TDC Meeting by Bryan J Durta.

8 of the 9 board members were present with Gary Walsingham absent.

Chairman Andy Phillips announced the meeting schedule for 2008.  The board will meet monthly on the 2nd Tuesday of each month with two exceptions.  The regular January meeting will be on the 9th and the November meeting will be on the 12th.  It was also announced that the Strategic Planning Retreat will be held on January 22nd.  In addition, Peter Yesawich of Y Partnership will make a public presentation on January 21st concerning the state of the tourism industry and how Panama City Beach fits in.

Mexico Beach Community Development District:  Tourism Director of Mexico Beach, Lynn Marshall, presented the 2007-08 Mexico Beach Community Development Council Budget and Program of Work to the TDC.  The total budget is $150,300.00.  TDC Office Manager Marcia Bush advised that it was her opinion that the budget met the statutory requirements.  The board voted 8-0 to recommend that the BCC approve the  contract with the CDD.  The CDD is the Mexico Beach equivalent of the Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau.

FL DEP Beach Management Funding Assistance Grant Agreement:  Lisa Ambruster of Sustainable Beaches LLC, recommended approval a grant agreement for the beach erosion control activities and the board approved the agreement 8-0. The DEP share of the $3,950,000 cost is $1,123,75 with the TDC being
responsible for the remaining $2,826,225.

Sea Turtle Lighting Ordinance Workshop:
Audience member Julian Bennett distributed a proposed motion to the board providing that the board make no restrictions on the number or length of public comments concerning the ordinance.  The motion was made by Mayor Oberst and passed 8-0. Chairman Phillips then explained to the board and audience that the purpose of the workshop was to hear input from both sides to assist the board in making a recommendation to the City of Panama City Beach and the BCC.

The draft ordinance written by staff was then presented by Doug Sale, TDC Legal Counsel.  Sale advised that the scope of the board’s work can be limited to the connection between the ongoing nourishment project and the Endangered Species Act.  He explained that the board did not need to be concerned about whether or not the sea turtles actually deserved or needed additional protection.  Sale also explained that the board was dealing with the 2006 pronouncement by U.S. Fish & Wildlife that they would not continue to provide positive consultation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concerning our renourishment project with a ordinance.  It is Sale’s opinion that the Corps would not continue to approve future projects without this positive consultation with USF&W.

Presentations by Janet Missi and Lorna Patrick of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service were then made.  Missi advised that the Endangered Species Act was invoked if just one turtle was impacted and that the Service did not believe that the public safety concerns of the community were legitimate.  Patrick advised that the Service finds the nest relocation option to be inconsistent with the Act.  Patrick also explained that any post-1996 development south of the Coastal Control Line should already have met the Service’s turtle protection requirements assuming no deviation from the development orders approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had been followed.  Patrick also advised that the Service would allow the ordinance to ignore both interior lighting and  properties north of the southernmost road.  In response to a question from President Rowe, Patrick made it clear that the Service expected the TDC to follow their previous agreement to make their recommendation no later than December 31, 2007.  In response to a question by Rick Russell concerning the proposed compliance date of May 2009, Patrick explained that a compliance period of 1-2 years would be acceptable while Russell’s suggestion of a 5-7 period would not.

Kennard Watson of St. Andrew Bay Resource Management (aka Bay County Turtle Watch) discussed his group’s monitoring program and the 2002 West End Pilot Turtle Protection Ordinance.  Watson explained that he felt that the ordinance had been successful at reducing hatchling disorientation and suggested that the Board consider just extending the 2002 Ordinance to the entire beach.

Dr. Fletemeyer then discussed his 2006 lighting survey report prepared for the TDC.  Julian Bennet assisted with his presentation.  Although acknowledging that his study had problems, Fletemeyer defended his report that was rejected by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service mainly due to the methodology used.  Fletemeyer also expressed his belief that the Service’s emphasis on beachfront lighting will not solve the issue since there were
many other impediments to hatchlings successfully reaching adulthood.  For example, he explained that Frank Brown Park was the worst light polluter on the beach.  The Doctor also expressed his belief that relocation of turtle nests would be just as effective as a lighting ordinance and a better choice for this area due to economic concerns.  In response to a question from Marty McDaniel, Fletemeyer announced that he believed the positive effects from staff’s proposed ordinance would be zero or at least minor.  In response to a question from Mayor Oberst, Fletemeyer explained that the Service’s position that a lighting ordinance would have no effect on public safety conflicted with the opinion’s of three public safety experts. Counsel Sale suggested again that the Board deal with the fit between the renourishment project and the Endangered Species Act.  Sale also expressed his opinion that Fletemyer’s concerns would be better dealt with at the state or federal level.

After extensive comments from the public, Board Attorney Sale then made some suggestions to the board concerning the ordinance.  First, he advised that the Service is likely to reject any grandfathering of existing properties. He suggested that Board instead exempt specific lighting fixtures that can be proven to have no greater effect on our renourished beach that it would have had on our pre-1998 unnourished beach.  Sale explained that it was his opinion that even this limited grandfathering might be unacceptable to the Service.  He recommended that relocation not be addressed since it would be very difficult to defend in any legal proceedings.  Sale also recommended the board follow the TDC’s prior agreement to suggest approval of a lighting ordinance no later than December 31, 2007.  Sale then distributed and explained a new proposed ordinance that he completed last night after discussion with the community and the Service.

The Board then voted to continue the meeting on Friday at 9AM after the members and community had the opportunity to study Sale’s new proposed

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