Sheriff’s Office begins enforcing airboat curfew
Published: Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 7:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 7:23 p.m.
Those who ignore the airboat curfew on Orange Lake soon will find themselves hunted down by law enforcement — using an airboat themselves — in the middle of the night.
Reserve deputies with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office have a donated airboat and are ready to skim along the lake to find airboaters between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and potentially slap them with a fine of $250 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.
“We’ve been working on this for over a year to try to get methods to respond to the complaints,” Sheriff Sadie Darnell said. “It’s low-cost because the reserves are volunteers and we got the donation of the airboat.”
Darnell credited reserve unit Capt. Steve Miller with putting together the program. Deputies were out on the lake last week talking to airboaters and residents, handing out fliers on the curfew and putting up notices at boat ramps along the lake in both Alachua and Marion counties.
Alachua County voters in 2010 passed a referendum on the curfew by a margin of 56.17 percent to 43.83 percent. The referendum came after the County Commission tried for years to come up with a solution to the issue, which pitted lakeside residents complaining of night airboat noise against enthusiasts who believe they should be able to cruise the lake at night.
Former state Sen. Steve Oelrich proposed bills that would nullify the curfew, but they were never passed by the Legislature.
Curfew advocate Bill Halback said Friday that airboaters generally abided by the curfew at first. Since then, he said, night use of airboats gradually has been increasing.
Halback added he is thankful to the Sheriff’s Office for the enforcement initiative.
“Airboaters gradually decided that maybe the sheriff wasn’t going to enforce the curfew and they could just go out there and do what they like. With rising water levels this spring and the onset of gator hunting season a couple of weeks ago, the airboat noise problem has gone back to where it was before,” Halback said. “As more and more residents have been complaining and appealing to the sheriff to do whatever they could with limited resources, they have responded to our request. Hopefully, airboaters will get the message or get fined.”
Alligator hunting season began in mid-August and will continue until Nov. 1. Permitted hunters are given a period and a location in which to hunt, and can trap two alligators.
Karen Parker, district spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said 107 permits were issued to trap alligators on Orange Lake. Meanwhile, 49 permits were issued for Lake Lochloosa and 38 for Newnan’s Lake.
Daily alligator hunting hours are from 5 p.m. until 10 a.m.
Officials say most alligator hunters use motorboats as opposed to airboats. Motorboats are not subject to the curfew.
But Allen “Cajun” Perry, an airboater who uses his craft to gig frogs on Orange Lake for income, said the curfew has cost him about $5,000 since gigging is typically done at night.
Perry said far fewer airboaters are coming to Orange Lake from other areas, hurting the revenue of fish camps and other businesses that cater to sportsmen with airboats.
The airboat curfew “has definitely hurt me financially. You always have a chance of getting caught, and that’s a $250 fine,” Perry said. “It’s hurt not only me but all of the fish camps. Everybody is complaining.”
Darnell said deputies will give violators a verbal warning and then a written warning before issuing citations.
Reserve deputies have varying levels of law enforcement training and authority, with some being fully certified and authorized to carry a firearm and make arrests.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.