Owner cited for turtle protection violations
BRADENTON BEACH — A special master ruled that the owners of Sand Pebble resort must correct their lighting and make sure all beach furniture is off the beaches from sundown until sunrise.
Special Master Harold Youmans also ordered Sand Pebble owner Louis Najmy to reimburse the city for the $948.40 cost of bringing him to the June 26 hearing at city hall.
It was the first time anywhere on the Island that a property owner had been found to be in violation of the turtle protection laws, and it was the first time a case was heard before a special master.
"My job is to make sure all the parties have a chance to be heard and to then render a decision," Youmans, a retired judge from the Orlando area said.
During the course of the hearing, all parties had numerous opportunities to speak, as did the public, before Youmans took a recess to reach his conclusions.
"I find that the property is in violation," he said after reaching his conclusions."
The special master could have ordered a fine of up to $250 a day, which Najmy said would be a problem for him:
"I just want to say that a fine is an extreme hardship for us right now. We are in difficult financial times."
There are federal, state and local laws that require all lighting visible from the beach to be shielded or turned off during nesting season.
Sea turtles are attracted to sources of artificial light and can become disoriented when they climb ashore to nest if those light sources are visible to them.
The other charge lodged against the owner was that he leaves furniture out on the beach overnight. There are several documented instances where a sea turtle became entangled in a beach chair and subsequently died.
Najmy said the people who work at Sand Pebble are instructed to draw all the furniture up off the beach at night. He asked if he was responsible if people then drag it back onto the beach at night.
The answer was yes. The property owner is responsible.
"In this case, those chairs did interfere with a female coming ashore to nest," Curt Harbsmeier, legal counsel to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch informed the special master. "There are federal regulations, specifically the endangered species act. State laws protect marine turtles and any person, firm or corporation who disturbs or molests a sea turtle is subject to penalty."
Harbsmeier pointed out that the city of Bradenton Beach also has regulations that insure compliance with state and federal law.
"These protection measures are required for Manatee County’s permit for renourishment sand," AMITW Director Suzi Fox said.
She testified that she and her volunteers monitor the beaches every morning at dawn to check for signs of turtle nesting. Fox compiles reports for the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission and for Manatee County.
After the hearing, Najmy said he thought the hearing was fair, and he made arrangements to pay his court costs and come into compliance within 48 hours. He also said he’s going to provide on-going training to his on-site staff and find a way to secure the beach furniture at night.
The Sand Pebble is one of 11 properties that were notified there was a violation of the turtle protection laws.
"All the others have either come into compliance or are working on coming into compliance," Bradenton Beach Code Enforcement Officer Wendy Chabot said.