County may push legislators opposing proposed state airboat law

An airboat glides by the McIntosh Fish Camp on Orange Lake. (File photo)

Published: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 6:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 8:27 p.m.

The Alachua County Commission may send letters to legislators asking them to reject proposed legislation that would undercut the local airboat curfew that voters approved in November 2010.

One of those legislators, State Sen. Steve Oelrich R-Cross Creek, is the Senate sponsor of the legislation that commissioners may target.

Commissioners are expected to vote on whether to send the letter, which has not been drafted, during a previously scheduled special meeting on the evening of Jan. 17.

With only four board members remaining after the resignation in December of former Commissioner Rodney Long, it remains to be seen if there will be three votes to officially weigh in on the issue.

Commissioner Mike Byerly, who worked with the political action committee that collected voter signatures to get the curfew on the ballot, suggested the letter of opposition to the legislation Tuesday.

He said the Suwannee-St. Johns Group of the Sierra Club sent a letter to the county seeking that move.

Byerly said the legislation was designed to nullify an ordinance approved by local voters and he found that “galling.”

The legislation would nullify local prohibitions on airboats if those boats pass a sound test. The threshold proposed is no more than 107 decibels measured from a distance of 100 feet. That is less stringent than the current airboat noise standard in state law- 90 decibels at 50 feet.

In a December interview, Oelrich said he was working with airboat associations to have statewide noise standards so individual counties could not put in place “blanket” prohibitions that ban the vessels from counties and water bodies across the state one at a time.

The decision to move ahead with the consideration of the letter passed 3-1, with Commissioner Susan Baird in dissent.

Baird said she was never a proponent of the curfew and she believed that the majority of the support for it came from voters who live miles from lakes and are not affected by it. While Commissioner Paula DeLaney agreed with Byerly's position, the wording of the letter will determine if Commissioner Lee Pinkoson supports it. Pinkoson said his support would be limited to a defense of local home rule.

Wrangling over airboat noise has been a long-standing issue in some areas of the county, primarily on and around Orange Lake, where airboats are popular, particularly for nighttime alligator hunts.

In a late November 2009 public hearing, commissioners considered several different variations of the airboat curfew - the hours shifting with each proposal- and did not have the four votes required under state law to pass a local ordinance “discriminating” against airboats.

At that time, Byerly, DeLaney and former Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut supported the curfew. Pinkoson and Long voted against it.

The political action committee Quiet Lakes for Alachua County then formed and collected voter signatures to get a 7 p.m.-7 a.m. curfew on the November 2010 ballot. The curfew passed with 56.17 percent support.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or

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