TREASURE ISLAND – City commissioners are considering a request by Suncoast Surf Shop in Treasure Island to install a webcam on top of the Beach Pavilion to monitor surf conditions at Sunset Beach.
Discussion Feb. 4 centered on privacy issues and possible license fees, but commissioners overall agreed it may be a good idea.
Suncoast Surf Shop is partnering on the project with the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group that works to protect and preserve the world’s oceans and beaches, and Surf GURU, a website that provides surf reports and live surf cams in Florida.
Surf Guru would sell advertising for the website, which would be used to support Surf Foundation’s local community efforts.
“Essentially, we would like to have people who are interested in watching the surf be able to see what’s going on at any given time,” said Joanne “JoJo” Braddock of Suncoast Surf Shop. “We think there’s a lot of usefulness in having a webcam in seeing what’s happening on the water with the waves.”
Braddock said it would save the shop the time of sending someone down to the beach four times a day to check on surf conditions.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said City Commissioner Alan Bildz. “The privacy issues are the only things that concern me. Who’s going to be controlling (the camera)? What will it be panning, tilting and zooming towards?”
Braddock said it would be used strictly to view surf conditions.
“We really don’t want to see anything else,” she said. “We just want to see what the surf looks like. The company that we would have to manage it (Surf Guru) does this all over the country on public properties and private properties. This is what they do. “We don’t want to manage it,” she said. “We don’t want to spend a lot of time selling advertising for it. We just want to have it.”
Commissioner Carol Coward asked if the camera would pick up people walking along the beach well enough to identify who they are.
“Nothing is identifiable,” Braddock said. “All the ones I’ve seen, I couldn’t tell if it was you walking on the beach.”
Mark Santos, IT director for the city, said the camera would employ the same technology that the city’s bridges use and the police use with its two cameras on Sunset Beach. He said the staff’s main concern is that the city won’t have control over the camera. He pointed to Duke Energy not allowing cameras from other entities on its utility poles for fear of privacy violations.
“On face value, I think it’s fine,” said City Commissioner Phil Collins. “But this company (Surf GURU) would have to abide by the same rules and regulations as our police department with its cameras. Absolutely, I would not want to see it look into someone’s back yard or home. I think we have to be guaranteed somehow that this camera would not be capable of doing that.”
Commissioner Tim Ramsberger said he was concerned about the city getting a cut of the action in the form of a license fee.
“I do have some hesitancy on (Surf GURU’s) goal to sell advertising,” said Ramsberger. “If we were getting a license fee, for the city, I would have no concern.”
Braddock said that issue shouldn’t be a problem.
Commissioners called for more details on the legal restrictions the city puts on its police cameras as that a similar restriction could be designed for an agreement with Surf GURU. Mayor Bob Minning suggested a review of the privacy agreement Bay News 9 has for its webcam mounted on the TradeWinds Island Grand Resort.
City Attorney Maura Kiefer said she thought the concept would be fine as long as the city has its criteria set up.
“If you do this, you’ll be subject to additional requests in the future,” she said. “You might want to consider establishing a city policy to control this in the future.”