BRADENTON – Members of the Palma Sola Scenic Highway Corridor Management Entity met Feb. 2 with one big item on their agenda: the horse riding operations that take place on the north side of the causeway.
Tim Maddox of The Real Beach Horses was on-hand during the meeting to help provide an insider’s look at how the horse riding businesses operate on the causeway. Because the businesses operate in a Florida Department of Transportation right of way, no money can be exchanged on the site but the businesses can operate with limited oversight and no permits needed. Issues that have been brought up during previous meetings include damage to seagrasses, damage to palm trees from tying up the horses and waste problems both on the causeway and in the water.
Maddox said that his ride operators are careful to only conduct rides during low tide when the seagrass along the beach area is visible and the horses can be led around the grasses rather than through them. He added that his staff also cleans up behind the horses while they’re on land though he added that other horse ride operators are not always so careful to preserve the local environment. Maddox also stated that he has commissioned water quality testing to make sure that the horse excrement isn’t adversely affecting the water in Palma Sola Bay. He said that the tests all came back well within normal levels and that four testing areas were used in close timing to when horse rides were taking place to get the best samples possible.
Though he said that his company is very mindful of how they leave the north side of the causeway, some of the other ride operators are not and it’s taking a toll on his employees who are encouraged to clean up after other businesses’ horses.
“I really think our industry needs regulation,” he said.
Maddox suggested that Palma Sola CME members approach the county about regulating the six or more ride operators that bring horses to the causeway for commercial purposes, including instituting a medallion system where businesses would have to apply for a permit per horse, similar to how some cities regulate taxis, and would have to meet certain standards or risk having the medallions revoked. Maddox suggested $500 per medallion to help pay for enforcement of the program. Currently, he said there are no permits, business taxes or regulations required. Ride operators only have to pay sales tax for monies collected.
Manatee County parks representative Mike Elswick said that if the property is owned by the city, even though it is an FDOT right of way, it could fall under the city of Bradenton’s parks department with rules and regulations determined by the parks department director. Maddox said that he feels the only way to create enforcement is to institute something like the medallion program because it’s a contract with strings attached and the threat of taking away the ride operator’s ability to have horses on the causeway.
“A slap on the wrist won’t work,” he said.
Co-chair Ingrid McClellan said she would work on achieving compliance with the current ride operators on the causeway while working with the Palma Sola CME group to come up with a recommendation to present to Bradenton city leaders.