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Vice Mayor supports eliminating beach parking

The issue of vehicles on the beach was once again a discussion at the June 18 meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission, when Vice Mayor Len Kreger asked that the commission consider banning the practice all together.

There is a 600-foot section of the beach at the dead end of Sadler Road on which vehicles are allowed to park. A path is left open for emergency vehicles to drive onto the beach under the current ordinance.

Kreger said that, in light of two people being run over as they sunbathed – one at Sadler Road and one at Peters Point Beach Front Park in the county, where on-beach parking is also allowed – it is a safety issue that cannot be ignored.

“My motivation is somebody is going to be killed,” Kreger said.

Proponents of parking on the beach defend it as a tradition on the island, and say it also allows handicapped persons to access the beach. Kreger said the handicap ramp at the beach is not usable, as it is covered in soft sand, and those in wheelchairs “can’t get anywhere near the beach because the cars are parked there.”

Commissioner Chip Ross said city code requires that a study be conducted before any changes are made to ordinances governing parking on the beach. He said that Fernandina Beach Police Chief Jim Hurley said parking on the beach – while not perfect – is working, and that he has concerns about where those who currently park on the beach would park if beach parking is eliminated.

Kreger said that is a non-issue, as there is plenty of parking available on other beaches in the county. “It shouldn’t be a problem because what they need to do is go to American Beach,” he said. “American Beach has on-beach parking, significant. Off-beach parking at Burney Park is significant.”

Kreger told the News-Leader that he asked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for a statement of the environmental impact of vehicles on the beach as well as the effect on wildlife.

The city’s beaches are currently scheduled to be renourished on an annual basis with sand dredged from the St. Marys River inlet. It is an ongoing project led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of the maintenance of the entrance channel for the submarine base at Kings Bay, Ga. Kreger said the stipulations of that program require no driving on city beaches unless the city provides authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for an incidental take of sea turtles and piping plovers, and that documentation must be provided before renourishment takes place, which has not been done.

City Commissioner Mike Lednovich said that only a small percentage of those who park on the beach do not follow the rules, and that the issue is accountability, which can be dealt with through video surveillance.

“All this requires is a video camera at the entrance. We capture everyone’s car,” Lednovich said. “Video camera at the north boundary, you capture violators. A video at the south boundary, you get violators. You capture people driving from Peters Point up to our beach. Once you capture them, it’s instantaneous ticket. You now have accountability. It’s not rocket science.”

Kreger said using video cameras could put the city at risk if the cameras are not monitored at all times. He added that, after someone is run over at the beach, video cameras cannot help that victim.

Commissioner Phil Chapman said parking should be first-come, first-served, and the city should not have to monitor the beach.

“I don’t understand why we are taking on this responsibility – that it’s our job to park cars. It’s not our job to park cars,” Chapman said. “It’s about behavior. You want to go to the beach (and) you want to park your car, you get there early.”

Chapman said video surveillance is a costly method of enforcing laws governing beach parking. “How much are we spending on beach rangers? Why are we spending all that money?” Chapman asked. “It’s certainly not because we have a lot of issues at Main Beach that need a policeman. The people that said, ‘I’ve been driving on the beach for 40 years,’ yeah, but the people who are running over people are not you. Your behavior, your attitudes are different. The trucks are bigger.

“My personal feeling is … unfortunately some well-behaved people are going to suffer, but that happens all the time. I’m not excited about seeing another person get run over. In both cases, the people that ran them over took off. … Are we going to have cameras every 50 yards in case somebody else gets run over? It’s not worth our expense, I don’t believe.”

Despite vocal opposition to the elimination of driving on the beach, Kreger said he has received support through email for the concept.

At the City Commission meeting, City Attorney Tammi Bach suggested the required study and how it would be conducted be put on the agenda for the July 2 City Commission meeting. The commission concurred with that suggestion.

News-Leader

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