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Madeira may outlaw airboats

This city's latest tourist attraction may end up being its next court battle.

Against advice from the city attorney, commissioners decided Tuesday they want to outlaw commercial airboats, declaring them a noise nuisance.

But there's only one commercial airboat business in Madeira Beach now, and it meets all the city's codes, is within the city's legal noise levels and has an occupational license issued by the city.

The owners of that airboat business _ Gulf Coast Airboat Tours _ say the commission's action is unfair, discriminatory and will deny them the right to operate their business.

"How can they say recreational boats are okay no matter how loud they are or what they are, but there won't be any commercial airboats?" said Patricia Paden. "Isn't that discrimination?"

For both sides, the battle has just begun.

Ms. Paden said she and her husband, Dave, will continue operating until a court tells them not to.

And though commissioners passed the ordinance 4-1, with Commissioner Dewey Leigh dissenting, it was just the first reading of the ordinance, which means anything can happen between now and the final reading in March.

"I don't like noise anymore than anyone else but I believe there's a better way to go about solving things," Leigh said. "We ought to sit down with the owners and discuss what we can do to eliminate the noise.

"As it stands, they haven't violated a law _ if someone says lower the noise level . . . I don't have any problem with that."

Numerous people spoke to the commission about the airboat _ some complained about noise and others said the noise doesn't bother them.

Several people presented the commission with more than 200 signatures complaining about the noise.

"It's nerve-wracking. It's disturbing. It's a nuisance," said Madeline Mann, who lives near the airboat's dock at John's Pass.

Some residents reminded the commission that it did not matter how many people complain _ Gulf Coast Airboat Tours is operating within the law.

City Attorney James Yacavone III told the commission that he thinks there is an 80 percent to 90 percent chance that this ordinance would be struck down in a court.

He also estimated an 80 percent to 90 percent chance that the Padens would win a federal civil rights action against the city if commissioners adopt the ordinance. A loss in federal court would be expensive for the city.

But commissioners said they felt a duty to the residents of Madeira Beach to rid them of the noise.