Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
To the surprise of Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) and Police Chief James Hurley no supporters or opponents of horseback riding on the city beaches turned out for the August 5, 2014 FBCC meeting, even though the item had been listed for discussion on the meeting agenda.
A local property owner had raised concerns about horses and conduct of their owners at the July 15, 2014 FBCC meeting. He said that city ordinances were not being followed with respect to hours of operation and cleanup. Additionally he said that commercial horse operators often behave in a hostile or intimidating manner to anyone who complains about their activities. He cited health and safety concerns posed by the current situation. In hopes of obtaining more public input on the topic the FBCC scheduled a formal discussion of the matter for August 5, 2014. But there were no speakers.
Commissioner Johnny Miller appeared ready to support an effort to ban such commercial activity from city beaches, while Commissioner Charlie Corbett wanted to make sure that the city had exhausted reasonable efforts to communicate with those businesses that are failing to abide by the hours of operation and cleanup requirements set out in the city ordinance.
Police Chief James Hurley was called to the podium to respond to commissioner questions and concerns. He reported that the police have received complaints from property owners about problems associated with the horse rental activities. While the police try to respond to calls, Hurley said that it is difficult for them to respond “when the horse is a mile down the beach and officers are looking for horse waste.”
Corbett queried, “So it is more or less a problem for you to enforce the ordinance?”
Hurley replied that when officers arrived on the scene following a complaint, they saw no violations. He added that the city has only issued 5 permits to allow commercial horseback riding on the beach. He has tried to educate, advice and negotiate with the vendors to solve problems, but that the police have not been able to issue citations because they have not observed the violations. They often do not know whether a reported violator is licensed or not.
Commissioner Pat Gass asked, “Why not issue a tag [for the horse trailer] and require the horse to wear a tassel so that beach goers know which operators have been licensed? Why can’t the horses wear bags [to collect waste]?”
Hurley replied that waste collection bags do not fit in with the romantic notion of riding a horse along the beach. Gass was not persuaded. “We are trying to find ways [for horses and beachgoers] to coexist here,” she said.
Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican asked if it would be possible to further limit the area where such businesses can operate. Today they may utilize the beach between Sadler Road and Peters Point. Chief Hurley reminded commissioners that the city ordinance provides for two different seasons with different hours reflecting public use of the beach.
Commissioner Miller emphasized that his concerns related to commercial businesses only, not individual horse owners riding on the beach. He saw no reason to allow current permit holders, whose businesses are not located in the city, to continue operation in light of the problems being caused for property owners, beachgoers and the Police Department.
Mayor Ed Boner added, “If we have an ordinance, we are responsible for enforcing it.” Corbett asked, “Do we want to send letters to permit holders?”
City Attorney Tammi Bach said that she would work with Chief Hurley to revise the ordinance and bring it back to the FBCC for action in September. She reminded commissioners that all current permits would expire on September 30, 2014.
Boner suggested that in revising the ordinance, perhaps it should be stated that with one violation the permit would be revoked. He said that his interest is in protecting the voters and residents of the city as opposed to commercial operators who are not located in the city. Corbett said that he wanted permitted commercial operators to be advised of all the ordinance requirements before any renewals were granted.
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.