CLEARWATER — Weed whackers. Chain saws. Bobcat bulldozers.
Beach outlaws have chosen their weapons to destroy sand dunes. Now city leaders have chosen their own to fight back:
The City Council has shown frustration for months over the state's lax enforcement of laws protecting the Clearwater Beach dunes, which guard the beaches from erosion and storms. In February, the city wrote the state about gaining authority to police its own dunes.
Last month, the state wrote back, saying the city could take partial control if it had the money and work force to enforce the law.
And the council responded: Well, about that …
"My big concern is, I don't want to take on the regulatory responsibility the state has," Mayor Frank Hibbard said last week. "It's under the state's jurisdiction. They ought to enforce it."
Hibbard worried that enforcement would cost too much for the city's tight budget, and council members suggested there were thriftier ways to watch the dunes.
Vice Mayor George Cretekos suggested the city could install signs on North Beach, source of most of the dune complaints. But the council unanimously voted for an even cheaper option: sending letters to beach homeowners reminding them of the rules.
Members said the letters will serve as an "initial step" of enforcement, with potentially stronger repercussions to come. Council member John Doran said he wanted assurance that "if people misbehave … we have the capacity to inflict some real pain."
"If we're writing a letter telling them we don't like them, I'd rather save the money," Doran said. "They already know we don't like them."
Most complainants said violators cut paths through the dunes to keep access to the beach, saying the sand was on their property.
"There are a lot of people who would rather ask for forgiveness than permission," Hibbard said. "They feel if they get caught it's no big deal."
City maps show five homes on Eldorado Avenue where the state Department of Environmental Protection has suspected dune violations. The state sent warning letters, said city environmental manager Ed Chesney, but rarely followed up.
"The only reason that we were even considering getting into the state's business," Doran said, "was because, quite frankly, the state's not taking care of business."
Contact Drew Harwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.