State OKs county's curfew on airboats
Lakeside residents had clamored for a curfew, saying the noisy boats were disruptive at night.
Published: Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.
Alachua County can enact a night curfew on airboats and not be in violation of a new state law, the Florida Attorney General's Office has determined.
The opinion clears the way for the County Commission to consider an ordinance on the curfew, a move that has drawn opposition from airboaters and support from residents who live on or near county lakes popular with airboaters.
Commission Chairman Mike Byerly, a supporter of the curfew, believes an ordinance will be ready for consideration fairly soon.
"I don't anticipate it taking very long. We should have done much of the groundwork already," Byerly said. "I am always pleased, no matter what the issue is, when more authority is delegated to local governments rather than being taken away by the state, which is what we were being told or what our interpretation of the statutory changes was. I'm also glad because it allows us to move forward with some sort of curfew, which I support."
Airboat noise has been an issue with which the commission has wrestled for years.
Lakeside residents complain that airboat noise disrupts their sleep and disturbs wildlife.
Airboat enthusiasts say they should have a right to use the craft when they want, whether it be for recreation or for business such as frog gigging.
Airboating has been an issue in other parts of Florida. Manatee, Lake and Citrus counties ban airboats from certain waterways or have curfews on them.
Commissioners earlier this year voted to enact a curfew but questions arose over whether the curfew would create a "boating-restricted area" in violation of a new state statute that became effective July 1.
That statute would require the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to approve a county ordinance before implementation.
County Attorney Dave Wagner sought an opinion from Attorney General Bill McCollum's office.
The opinion issued on Tuesday states that the county can enact a curfew, citing a statute that allows counties to adopt ordinances that may discriminate against airboats when the ordinance is adopted with a vote of at least 4-1.
Several officers and directors of the United Sportsmen and Airboater's Alliance, an area airboat advocacy group, said Wednesday they wanted to learn more about the ruling before commenting on it.
"There are still quite a few questions about it," said President Jerry Wetherington. "I would like to meet with the county attorney to see what he thinks it means."
A sizable number of airboat supporters generally attend commission meetings when the issue is discussed. Byerly, in an e-mail on the Attorney General's opinion, called on curfew supporters to "pack the room" when the measure is brought back to the commission.
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