CLEARWATER — Will the dog lovers or the bird lovers prevail tonight?
Except for a couple of dog parks, North Clearwater Beach is the last place in Pinellas County where people are allowed to take their dogs onto the beach.
Now environmentalists are asking the city to ban dogs on the north beach to protect nesting shorebirds. A divided City Council is slated to make a decision at its meeting this evening.
The issue came up two weeks ago when the city's Environmental Advisory Board recommended the dog ban. City Council members debated it at length, then postponed a decision so they could review the scientific research that the environmental board had assembled.
Two weeks ago, the council heard from Anna Fusari, chairwoman of the environmental board, and Ann Paul, regional coordinator for Audubon of Florida.
Paul said about 30 species of shorebirds nest on North Clearwater Beach, including snowy plovers, black skimmers, least terns and American oystercatchers. She said it's vital that the birds stay in their nests to protect their eggs and chicks, and that they are more disturbed by dogs than by humans or all-terrain vehicles.
Fusari said the environmental board recommends a dog ban on the beach itself, but that wouldn't prevent beach property owners from having dogs on their property. She also noted that the Clearwater Beach Association supports such a ban.
Council members had mixed reactions.
Paul Gibson and George Cretekos had questions about how far the ban would go, and whether it could be enforced.
"The logical extension of this would be to ban cats, dogs, motor vehicles and people, and to include Clearwater Beach and Sand Key," Gibson said.
John Doran and Carlen Petersen support a ban. Doran, who drives his dog to the dog beach at Fort De Soto State Park, said dog owners from other cities have been bringing their canines to North Clearwater Beach.
"There are people who do feel strongly about this in both directions," Doran said. "Because everybody else has closed down their beaches to the dogs, we have an influx of transient dogs."
Mayor Frank Hibbard wanted to see more scientific data.
"It looks right now like a 2-2 vote," he said, "so I'll be deciding."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.