Consideration of an amendment to the Lee County personal watercraft ordinance goes before the Lee County Commission's management and planning meeting on Tuesday, May 6.
The proposed amendment is in response to an application to allow a personal watercraft tour vendor to operate out of Port Sanibel Marina in San Carlos Bay and related back bays and waterways.
Sanibel City Council, on the recommendation of Sanibel Natural Resources director James Evans, opposes the measure based on the potential for negative impact on the Sanibel shoreline and existing passive recreation on the bay.
No public comment will be allowed at the May 6 meeting, only written comments.
On April 22, Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane and council released a letter addressed to commission chairman Cecil Pendergrass objecting to the amendment's passage.
"We are very concerned about the precedent that approving this application would set by allowing personal watercraft vendors to operate in the environmentally sensitive back-bay waters of San Carlos Bay and the waters adjacent to Sanibel Island," the letter states in part. "These quiet back-bay waters provide critical habitat for the endangered Florida manatee and smalltooth sawfish, and our rookeries and roosting areas for several rare colonial nesting bird species.
"Visitors from around the world come to Lee County to recreate, observe wildlife, and enjoy our pristine beaches. One of the major attractions to Lee County and Sanibel is our natural environment and the tranquility that our area offers over other destinations," the letter continues. "Many Lee County residents have built their businesses in tandem with this natural setting - offering visitors opportunities to enjoy the waters and shores of Lee County through fishing, snorkeling, shelling, paddling, kayaking and other activities."
The county's personal watercraft ordinance has been amended three times in the past, Evans told city council at its April 16 meeting.
"We recommend opposing the ordinance amendment with a letter to the commission," said Evans. "This has the potential to impact Sanibel and the citizens of Sanibel."
Council's letter continues, "Personal watercraft are very different from other types of recreational boats. They are fast, noisy and have a very shallow draft, allowing them to operate in sensitive areas that other watercraft typically cannot access. This type of active recreation is not consistent with the goals of the Sanibel Plan and would be in direct conflict with existing Lee County businesses operating in the area that focus on promoting passive recreation, such as canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding.
"Allowing noisy, high-speed personal watercraft to be used in teh back-bay waters would likely result in direct impacts to our local bird rookeries and roosting areas; increase potential for boat strikes with manatees foraging in the shallow grass beds; impact the enjoyment of our waters by kayakers, paddle boarders and others passively recreating; and create noise concerns and a nuisance for property owners living on the back bay waters."
Officials from Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, Ding Darling and Natural Resources already have weighed in with comments before commissioners at a recent open meeting introducing the change. Their concerns related to noise as well as impacting the shoreline and existing passive recreation on the bay.
Council's letter closes by urging the commission to retain the current language in Lee County Ordinances 08-14 and 95-13 - to protect and preserve our natural environment, as well as our local economy.
All five city council members signed the letter.