Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 20, 2017 3:14 p.m.
Horseback riding on island beaches has a long tradition and many loyal supporters. But increasingly Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) are fielding complaints from beachgoers who object to what the horses leave behind. While the tourism industry promotes scenes like this:
What many beachgoers are finding to their consternation is this:
At the urging of City Commissioner Roy Smith, the FBCC discussed what seems to be another chapter in the never-ending saga of animal control on city beaches. Smith told his fellow commissioners, “We’ve got to stop talking about this problem and fix it.” He suggested that the city require that each horse on city beaches wear a “diaper bag” to collect its waste, because the current situation makes city beaches “look terrible.”
Six speakers addressed the commissioners, three of whom represented licensed commercial operators: Amelia Island Horseback Riding and Happy Trails. They said that that they understood the complaints, but that their companies provide a positive service and are responsible for many satisfied customers who support other local businesses during their stays on the island. They expressed a willingness to work with the city in finding a solution to the problem, which they claimed is caused by private riders who do not have permits and who ignore the rules that commercial companies follow.
Two other speakers—one a private rider and the other a real estate professional—said that the ability to ride horses on the beach draws people to visit and sometimes move to the island. They pooh-poohed any health or environmental hazard. Dr. Carly Miller, who grew up with horses, said that horse manure is basically grass and that it resembles grass clippings that have been left to compost. Carol Woodmansee claimed that there is more environmental damage done by children building sandcastles than by horses.
Chris Bordnick who had no horse in the race, merely urged commissioners to drop the topic and focus on more important business. He said that if the commissioners were truly concerned about environmental impacts, they should look at the problems caused by oil and transmission fluid at the beach parking area at the end of Sadler Road.
Commissioners seemed sympathetic to the horseback riding businesses. They asked city staff to set up a workshop so that riders and businesses could work with the city on crafting language to modify the existing ordinance to resolve problems. The commissioners seemed inclined to allow commercial businesses to continue under certain circumstances, but possibly ban private riders from city beaches. Private riders may still ride at state park beaches on the south end of the island.
Commissioners balked at suggestions to require police monitoring of the beaches to enforce the ordinance, agreeing that there are better uses for police efforts throughout the city. However, they allowed that periodic plain-clothes checks might be warranted. Commissioners also wanted violations to be accompanied by citations and fines.
Commissioner Roy Smith was adamant that the matter come back to the commission for action as soon as possible, which will probably be June. He also asked that at the same time the commission address enforcing dog leash laws on the beach.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.