Beachgoer belongings left on beach threaten sea turtles

Beach litter and items left behind on July 4 caused problems for nesting sea turtles. This scene greeted public works employees for the Town of Indian Shores the morning of July 5.

REDINGTON SHORES — People violating an ordinance that prohibits beachgoers from leaving items on the beach overnight is causing problems for sea turtles laying their eggs, Commissioner Jennie Blackburn said at the July 13 Town Commission meeting.

Blackburn said she participated in the beach cleanup on the fifth of July “and I was blown away by the number of chairs, towels, clothes and toys that were left on the beach.” 

Blackburn told of two recent incidents in which sea turtles got tangled up in beach canopies and chairs. Based on the tracks in the sand, the Sea Turtle Conservancy determined one turtle came out of the water, encountered a canopy and chairs, and did not lay her eggs. She turned around and went back out to the water. The second turtle, on another day, was able to get up to some grass and did lay her eggs, Blackburn said.

“This happened because the abandoned property ordinance was violated and ignored,” Blackburn said. “The people in my district (1) have been seeing this and complaining (that the ordinance isn’t enforced), and they are right. We shouldn’t have this ordinance if we’re not going to enforce it,” Blackburn said.

A problem has been that the town can confiscate the abandoned property, but they are required by state law to keep it for 90 days or until it is claimed. The town has no place to put it. A shed where abandoned property used to be kept is gone, Blackburn said.

“So, how do we make this more enforceable,” Blackburn asked.

She said the worst offenders are short-term condo renters, and they are covered by the vacation rental ordinance. That code requires that guests be given written notice of the condo rules and local laws before they come for their stay. That would include the abandoned property law. 

Blackburn recommended the town take advantage of those provisions in the vacation-rental ordinance to make sure that short-term renters are informed of the rules and the fines for violations. The cost is $250 a day for a first violation, and $500 a day for repeat violations. 

Guests can be informed that there should be nothing left on the beach from one hour after sunset until 8 a.m., and Blackburn said informing people of the law would help reduce violations.

Commissioner Ken Later said he had also gotten complaints about people leaving canopies and chairs on the beach overnight, and about dogs on the beach, as well as people not covering up holes they dig.

Later agreed with Blackburn that informing guests of the rules before they check in would help ensure compliance. He suggested hang tags could be put in the condos, along with brochures that talk about the impact on the environment of leaving items on the beach overnight.

An attention-getting brochure could have a front cover, saying “Don’t be a turtle killer,” Later said.

New town clerk

Deputy Clerk Tracy Campbell was named town clerk, replacing longtime Clerk Mary Palmer.

The announcement was made by Town Administrator Jeff Shoobridge. Campbell was one of two applicants for the job.

The controversy surrounding Palmer’s leaving, which some called a “forced resignation,” may have limited the response to the job opening. Shoobridge said the job was posted in key sources that would be familiar to potential applicants.

“It was posted for three weeks, and we received two applications,” Shoobridge said.

He said references on the other applicant “were unimpressive.”

Shoobridge said Campbell has signed up for training classes she needs to be fully qualified for the job. She has a mentor assigned by the Florida Clerks Association. And the clerk from Holmes Beach, who is the immediate past president of the Clerks Association, has agreed to also mentor her, Shoobridge said.

The town is now soliciting applications for the open deputy clerk position.

Sewer system sale

The commission voted 5-0 to authorize the town administrator to enter into negotiations with Pinellas County Utilities on an agreement for them to acquire the town’s wastewater system.

There has been discussion at commission meetings over the years about the pros and cons of selling the sewer system to the county, but the town had not taken steps to make it happen. Commissioner Bill Krajewski said that the town started thinking seriously about it more than a year ago, and that recent repairs being done to the system have put the facilities in better condition.

Krajewski said the sewer system’s sale has been needed for some time.

“How much longer does the town want to assume responsibility for a system that is close to 70 years old? The risk of continuing to manage this system outweighs being able to move on and have the experts manage our wastewater system,” Krajewski said. 

A resident wanted to know how service rates would be affected by the sale, and Krajewski said he believes they will be the same or lower than current rates.