Dunedin Causeway's overnight restrictions make boaters unhappy

DUNEDIN — There once was a time, Mike Canfield says, when the Dunedin Causeway stayed soaked in youthful drunkenness and all-night parties.

But for beachgoers like Canfield, now 40, the beers have given way to boats, sailed or double-hulled, attached to trailers and launched from the shoreline into St. Joseph Sound.

It's a transformation the network engineer from Palm Harbor now enjoys on catamaran trips along the coast, his 10-year-old daughter, Flannery, learning to sail alongside him. But efforts to keep the causeway clean, especially overnight, will soon cost him $100 every year.

The Dunedin City Commission approved an ordinance on Thursday banning the parking of boats, vehicles and other property along the causeway from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., with exceptions made for owners of a special city-provided license. It expands upon an old policy that banned overnight camping storage.

Officials from the city and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office say the ban will get rid of gear that blocks the shoreline view and draws in thieves and vandals. But the licensing agreement, being written this week, has already gained opponents who say sailors' freedoms will be too restricted or not restricted enough.

Ten bucks will buy a two-day pass allowing boaters a beachside storage spot without the worry of returning the next day to a ticket. For $100 boaters can buy an annual license, with certain caveats: Holders will only be allowed the same two days per week, every week, unless they call to reschedule.

For example, a Saturday-Sunday license will mean only weekend trips, said City Attorney John Hubbard, unless a holder changes it in advance.

Boaters from around Pinellas County told commissioners that restricting what was once a free beach to two nights a week would make it hard on future trips. Who knows, asked Marilyn Cavallaro of Dunedin, when the wind will blow?

"To limit this," she told City Hall, "is heartbreaking for a sailor."

Commissioners said they wanted to allow enough leniency for legitimate sailors wanting a night on the Gulf of Mexico. Still, stowed and derelict property littering the water's edge, as announced by deputies who patrolled the area, remained an issue of safety.

"We forge our own chains. It is people abusing the thing that makes us react to it," Hubbard said. "Nobody would have cared if people had acted responsibly — and these sailboaters were acting responsibly — but a lot of people weren't.

"It became a problem and now we have to adjust the problem —but it would have been nicer to leave it alone."

Some, like Commissioner David Carson, think the ban should have gone further. Handing out licenses will encourage more storage on the sand, he said, not less.

"I don't want this to be a parking lot," said Carson, the sole dissenting vote on Thursday's approval. "I truly believe this will get worse."

Deputies wanted "more teeth in the ordinance," he said, so abandoned gear could be towed instead of just ticketed. Now, what was just about a half-dozen trailers left nightly, as one boater estimated, could be bolstered by others whose licenses give them free rein.

The license's exact wording still needs to be written and submitted to the Sheriff's Office before the ordinance will be enforced, Hubbard said. Boaters hope the clean sweep will be worth it.

"Catamaran sailing on the causeway has really been a lush and vibrant part of this community," said Dunedin resident David Parker. "It is a nighttime culture that we would like to preserve."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Dunedin Causeway's overnight restrictions make boaters unhappy 07/06/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 6, 2009 9:32pm]

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