Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm

Reporter – News Analyst

ami-beachandhorse-marTo 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.

FBPD Chief James Hurley
FBPD Chief James Hurley

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
Commissioner Pat Gass

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 Johnny Miller
Commissioner Johnny Miller

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.

Suanne ThammEditor’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.

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tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_20768)
8 years ago

Sounds like a bunch of crap!
Before we ban horses I think we should remember that this is someones livelihood. It’s a business and I am sure the folks that run it do it to make money and support their family. Lets not be so quick to help put them out of business.
If this article is correct it stated (a) property owner raised concerns over this issue. If that is to mean (one) property owner has a problem, does that really mean there is a problem? Is it really a problem for many or just one. When owners are approached and show hostility I have to wonder if this is the perception of one or many who have approached them? I don’t think we should overreact to the view of one person. We need to think of what most would want and understand if this is really an issue.
Simple fact is can this issue be fixed? I understand the police have a hard time enforcing this issue, that is understandable, a lot of ordinances are hard to enforce.
I am on the top of the list of folks that don’t want to see, smell, step in, or have my grand kids play in horse crap.
I think however this is an issue that can be fixed using good old common sense.
My suggestion to the Commission would be to simply change the rules so that all horses have to wear drop bags. That simple. Send letters out to all those seeking permits informing them of the new rule. This rule would apply to commercial business as well as private rides. Should they want a permit, or want to ride their horse on the beach they are to follow the rule. Simple. If they chose not use drop bags and have a permit the enforcement becomes easier. If a complaint is called in and the Police respond and find the horse with no drop bag a warning or ticket is issued. No need to search the beach for the evidence.
I understand it is not the most romantic situation to have a drop bag on the horse. I have however seen many romantic couples ride all around NYC with drop bags on the south end of a north bound horse. I just think we can keep everyone happy with this one. It really is that simple. As much as I am not fond of horse crap, I enjoy seeing the horses, I have talked to many owners and riders and never had anything but pleasant conversations with them. It’s part of what makes Fernandina Beach such a special place. Let’s try to fix this one using common sense and good communications.

The George
The George (@guest_20775)
8 years ago

I wouldn’t think there would be enough horse manure to cause a problem . Its easier to see than bird or dog poop and stepping on a fresh pile barefoot would be better than stepping on a jelly fish and could be a learning experience for you . Watch where you are going . As for drop bags , They really nasty and they stink .

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_20776)
8 years ago
Reply to  The George

George, People are complaining to the point the City is thinking of banning the horses, and folks are calling the police. lets admit it is enough of a problem to take such steps. It is way past watching your step. Drop bags only stink when not emptied and cleaned. That would be the owner’s responsibility to care and clean those bags I have walked past dozens of horses in NYC who must wear drop bags, they are emptied as needed and do not stink at all. What we have to look at here is how to best fix the problem and keep everyone happy . The land owners who complain, the horse riders who make a living doing this, the private riders who bring their own horse and to put in enforceable regulations the police can in fact enforce . Lets not dwell on the reasons this can’t work—lets first look at the ways we can get this work done. Wouldn’t be nice to try to fix something where in the end all parties are in agreement

Pam Hart
Pam Hart (@guest_20780)
8 years ago

My comments are the same as last time. I think it is absolutely ridiculous to consider banning horses on the beach or even have them wear bags when the ocean is right there.and the tides take care of what the crabs don’t. People should watch where they step! Easy solution! If. the city does this it is the beginning of the loss of Fernandina’s charm. The death of a thousand little cuts begins with issues like this. Watch your step commissioners!

Laura Grant
Laura Grant (@guest_20781)
8 years ago

I didn’t attend because I didn’t know about this meeting. My bad. But absolutely am astounded that a ban is being considered. One homeowner! Manure bags are not the answer. They should be given time to go back and pick up the waste….or pay someone to follow them doing that. It’s not at ALL like human waste or dog waste….it’s digested grass. One violation then no permit rule? That’s not right. How do we know Mr. Homeowner isn’t just a mean person who won’t report them without cause? The police said they have come out only to find no poop? I am a homeowner. I want to complain about all the bottles and cigarettes and trash left by vacationers. Please set this on your next commission agenda so we can vote out vacationers. Stop catering to complainers who bought property knowing it was an animal friendly town bit now they want to have it change.

janet walter
janet walter (@guest_20782)
8 years ago

the horses are so cool to watch walking the beach; however , the droppings are offensive and there is NO reason not to put a bag on them to eliminate the waste from being a potential pile to step in and the comments from unhappy beach goer’s that end up with it on their bodies or blankets as it washes around with the tide. remember however; all the dogs that run and walk the beach, they too make ‘messes’ so whatever it takes to own the responsibility of cleanup should be implemented to be respectful of this beautiful beach everyone enjoys. there is the pooper scooper for dog’s and the horse’s could tie on a bag and no one would have to look at it or step in it or smell it. let’s all try to work together for the beauty of the beach and all have another great day on. BLESS THE BEACH!

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_20783)
8 years ago

Spot on Tony, finding a solution that works for everyone is the key. Sorry Pam and George, but while horse manure piles are easy to spot when on top of the sand when the tides come up and they are in the shallow breaking waves, they cannot be seen and turn into a slimey muck that would be extremely gross if it were to wrap around one’s ankles or worse land in their lap if they were sitting there. Drop bags seem to be the best solution to keep the waste from getting on the beach in the first place and easy for the police to determine if the horse owner is in compliance or not.

John Kenney
John Kenney (@guest_20785)
8 years ago

If the original homeowner complainant did not even bother to show up and he/she is the only one on record as having a problem with this, then the appropriate response is to do nothing.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_20789)
8 years ago

Pam, you used the words ” absolutely ridiculous” That the City ban horses. Let us not forget who we are dealing with here—The City. We in the past have been known to do some ridiculous things as many cities have in the past.
The facts still remain, ridiculous or not, they are about to ban horses. The issue is how can a solution be reached to keep the horses, and keep those complaining happy.
It’s a solution that is needed here. As much as I respect you solution of not stepping it, that will not fix the problem and the horses will be gone.
I would like you to explain why drop bags are also a (ridiculous) idea. They are used world wide to solve this problem. I have seen them. In fact I have seen them work and they catch everything exiting the old horses butt before it ever hit the street or sand. The point here is simple, if a solution isn’t found to “catch the crap” the horses may very well be gone. That would be the ridiculous ending to this. Tourists will suffer, our ambience will suffer, and some may just loose their jobs.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_20790)
8 years ago

About $65 – $75 for a horse manure catch bag. Seems like a small price to pay to be able to continue to operate your business or ride your personal horse on the beach.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_20791)
8 years ago

Thank you Dave

Joe Palmer
Joe Palmer (@guest_20798)
8 years ago

I love it that we have a beach where horseback riding can be done. On our vacation to Ireland last summer, one of the highlights of the trip was a long, long ride on a stunningly beautiful beach on the NW coast of Ireland. It’s great that people can have that experience here. Having said that, as they did in Ireland, the horse’s owners/riders should be responsible for not leaving their poop on the beach. We don’t need a law that bans horseback riding on the beach. What we need are level headed folks who ride and don’t ride to find ways to accommodate one another. Otherwise, we end up with dumb, knee-jerk laws that punish everyone. People who just don’t like the notion of horses on the beach, and there are some out there because I’ve talked with them, need to realize that you can’t always have everything your own way. Horse owners/riders need to realize that arguments I’ve seen and heard (a couple of them here) to the effect of (A) People on the beach should watch where they step (B) The tide will wash it away (C) It’s just digested grass (D) If you don’t like it, go to a beach that doesn’t allow it – need to understand that attitudes like this hurt their cause, not help it. Of course the tide washes it away, and then someone swimming, standing in the water fishing or surfing in the vicinity has to deal with loose horse poop in the water. As far as beach goers needing to watch their step is concerned, the burden shouldn’t be on that person but should be the responsibility of whomever left the stuff there. It’s just digested grass. Okay, and human waste is digested cheeseburgers and whatnot but even if there isn’t a single living germ in it, I don’t want to step in it. And finally, if you don’t like it, go somewhere else. That really puts a nail in your cause. It’s a hostile, immature response and it was one of the main attitudes that got driving banned from the beach. Sometimes you have to give a little and get along. Please, let’s not stop horses from riding on the beach. It’s a fun and relaxing activity. Other than the horses leaving droppings, which is a situation that can be alleviated, there’s no reason to ban them from the beach. If there are some property owners who are just personally opposed to horses being on the beach, put your big boy pants on and realize that there are other people living in the world besides you. We don’t ban dogs from walking on the beach. We punish those who are caught leaving Fido’s messes. And there are still a sizeable number of folk who let their dogs do it and don’t clean it up. But do we punish all responsible dog owners for the sins of a few? No, of course we don’t. Nor should we punish all horse owners/riders because some won’t clean up after themselves. When a dog owner is caught leaving a mess, he or she can be punished. It the mess is already there but no one is observed leaving it, it’s nasty and unfortunate but it’s wrong to retaliate against all dog owners – and thank God we don’t – because some people are either ignorant or don’t care. It should be the same with horses. Deal with the guilty and leave the others alone. One thing I guarantee you is certain. I will bet you a dinner at Salt that if you walk from main beach to Ft. Clinch State Park, you will find twice as much dog mess on the beach as than you will find on any given seven day week on the entire 12 mile stretch of beach. And yet we’re not asking to ban dogs. It simply doesn’t make sense and is needlessly punitive.

Gerhardt Thamm
Gerhardt Thamm(@thammgbyahoo-com)
8 years ago

Another example of the business-friendly Fernandina City Government.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_20800)
8 years ago

A great way to politely explain this. It really doesn’t seem to be rocket science to put something between the Horses A@% and the sand—-$75 and it’s a done deal. If the Police find anyone riding without that scientific wonder attached to the rear end of a horse —warn or fine them. Simple solution–simple enforcement–simple government.

Bailey Struss
Bailey Struss (@guest_20804)
8 years ago

It seems reasonable to me to lean on the side of caution and use the poop bags. We know that there is an increase of diseases and pathogens on Florida beaches now (for example the people who have died from the ‘salt water’ brain eating amoeba. We know that horses are given many medications like worming etc and that they will have spores and other fungi not found in ‘marine poop.’ Do we know that these are safe for the environment and human health? BTW, this battle is raging in many places as the impact of population and tourism (horses on beaches in this case) becomes and issue like never before. Use caution with poop bags until the science of the impact becomes more clear.

The George
The George (@guest_20814)
8 years ago

Mr. Crawford seams to know a lot about a horses butt and horse manure . All I know is it is good for your roses . Maybe we should all stop and smell the roses . Life is a beach .

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_20818)
8 years ago

George, I know very little about horses. I do however know a little about gravity. When something exits a horses butt it will fall to the ground unless there is something to catch it. That would be the horse bag.
I do know horse crap isn’t nice to step in, play in, smell, and swim in.
I also know that the horse riding has a limited time in Fernandina if the city doesn’t act in a responsible way.
I also know that a few complaints do not warrant the banning of horses on the beach.
I also know there is a reasonable solution to this without banning horses.
Horses George, your right, I know little about.
Horse crap, well that’s another matter.

D'Lene (@guest_20845)
8 years ago

WHOA…. I love the horses and riders enjoying themselves on the beach. Have the outfitters send someone to the beach via a jeep and bury the poop – just add it to the cost of the experience. Not a fan of poop bags, do seniors where diapers to the beach? Come on people – get HAPPY, stop being such a neeeeeeeigh sayer!

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_20853)
8 years ago

D’Lene, Yes actually seniors do wear diapers on the beach, and at restaurants, and at the movies. They wear them all over town. Now think of the ambiance that a jeep and some guy shoveling crap would be riding behind a horse. I am sure that would add a lot to your day at the beach. The answer is simple—-Drop bags. No jeep, no noise, no one burying crap in the sand, and should the seniors wear diapers to the beach, no one will ever know. Remember if a solution isn’t found our city government may very likely ban horses all together. This would be a shame.

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