Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 21, 2018 – 1:01 p.m.
Whether it’s unleashed dogs on the beach or poorly tended dumpsters, the at their February 20, 2018 Regular Meeting the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) was clear in its direction to the city manager: enforce the codes consistently and evenly around the city.
A call for a dog park on the beach
In light of a recent crackdown on unleashed dogs on city beaches, Kate Kilpatrick spoke during Public Comment at the February 20, 2018 FBCC Regular Meeting in hopes of encouraging commissioners to pursue the creation of a dog park on the city’s Atlantic Beach. She came armed with extensive research conducted around the state, with examples of two communities – Jupiter and DeSoto Beach—that have successfully implemented such parks. She addressed concerns relating to sea turtles and endangered migratory birds, citing actions that these two communities have taken to address such concerns.
Kilpatrick suggested that volunteers might be enlisted to assure that dogs stay within the designated area, and that they might call in law enforcement for those dog owners who do not abide by the rules of the beach.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger, who spends several hours each day on city beaches, said, “It’s a disaster out there with the dogs. I’ve witnessed dogs digging sea turtle nests on this beach. It’s got to the point that I carry pepper spray with me. We don’t make the people who don’t comply with the [leash] law criminals; they make themselves criminals. People are terrified of dogs. We have a law and we have given the city direction to enforce that law. Sea turtles, endangered species, are protected in the state of Florida. Dogs do not have rights on these beaches. They are a hazard on these beaches as shown by recent attacks.”
There are signs all over the place,” Kreger said. “But people [with unleashed dogs] don’t care.”
Kilpatrick parried concerns of the various commissioners with information conducted during her research.
Mayor John Miller told Kilpatrick that he heard no consensus among commissioners to consider a dog park on the beach or to deviate from current enforcement efforts. He suggested she email the commissioners with the information that due to time limits she had not been able to present.
City Manager Dale Martin provided commissioners with 28 photos taken the morning of February 16, 2018 of dumpsters in the downtown area showing numerous violations. Code Enforcement reported that the majority of the dumpsters are not enclosed, and are not landscaped. Several dumpsters are in the city Right-of-Way. Many of the dumpsters need to be repainted or replaced due to graffiti and rust. Many are dirty and dingy with grease and old liquid debris. And in short many in the downtown area are in such general disrepair that they are eyesores.
Commissioners paged through the handout with looks of distaste and agreed with Code Enforcement.
Martin said, “In the past, this has been a ‘look the other way’ situation. But I believe that if we are going to enforce one situation, we need to address them all. I know this can rear its head politically.” He asked commissioners if they were ready to wade into this fight.
Commissioner Chip Ross said, “You know I heard many times tonight: enforce the law. I’m not running for reelection. I think we should enforce the law and proceed with enforcement here. It goes painfully slowly, and you give people time to correct the problem. But I think we need to clean this up.”
Mayor Miller joked about Ross’s statement that he is not running for re-election, given that he was only elected in December. Ross joked back, “One and done, who knows.”
Vice Mayor Len Kreger agreed, adding that it is a particular problem outside of downtown when they are put in the Right-Of-Way. And become a safety hazard.
Commissioner Phil Chapman said, “I don’t think downtown is the only problem. If we are going to enforce this, we need to do so across the city.”
Martin agreed, indicating that he will direct a survey of all the commercial areas in the city to address all the problems.
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.