Floating structures could face waves of regulation in ’18

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TONY JUDNICH @Tonyjnwfdn

The owners/operators of floating structures that serve as businesses on area waterways might begin facing a boatload of local regulations in the new year.

Okaloosa County Attorney Greg Stewart recently told the County Commission that he and county Growth Management Director Elliot Kampert have been working on a draft ordinance that would regulate floating structures moored in waterways within the county’s jurisdiction.

“We hope to bring that back to the board in the near future,” Stewart told county commissioners at their Dec. 5 meeting.

He added that he and Kampert had just met with Sheriff’s Office officials to work on an enforcement plan for the potential ordinance.

On a related note, the Destin City Council, working with the county, plans to host a public workshop next month to discuss possible ways of regulating the major party spot known as Crab Island. Destin City Manager Carisse LeJeune said while Crab Island is not in the city limits, Destin officials want to look at what can be done to enhance the safety of visitors to the popular summertime destination.

The workshop is set for 5 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Destin Community Center, 101 Stahlman Ave.

Last June, a new state law was established that, among other things, “authorizes local government to enact and enforce certain regulations” on waters falling within its jurisdiction. This legislation “does not prohibit local government authorities from the enactment or enforcement of regulations that prohibit or restrict the mooring or anchoring of floating structures, live-aboard vessels, or commercial vessels … within their jurisdictions.”

This law gives local authorities their first-ever ability to regulate commercial activities at Crab Island.

During the first week of October, residents at the Presidio Yacht Club Condominiums, just west of Fort Walton Beach City Hall, looked out onto the Santa Rosa Sound to see a floating structure moored on the waterway. About a couple of weeks later, that structure was joined by a larger one, which was parked closer to the middle of the sound.

Both structures reportedly were used as Crab Island businesses during the warmer months.

Those two floating businesses also were noticed by scores of other residents, including many who live on the sound’s south side.

“We have a problem because the floating structures from Destin are being moved right behind our houses on Okaloosa Island,” island resident Ricki Roberts told commissioners during their Dec. 5 meeting. “We took this before the Okaloosa Island Leaseholders Association and we voted unanimously to take some sort of action against this to keep more (structures) from being brought” to the sound.

She said the second structure that was spotted was “huge” and included a “Jet Ski rental” section. Roberts said that structure was moored about 20 feet from a channel marker and about 100 yards from her dock.

“That was not really what we wanted to see back there, plus we feel like it’s probably going to end up being some sort of a hazard” to boaters, “because there’s no regulation on them whatsoever,” she said. “There are no lights on them.”

Such unlit structures represent an accident waiting to happen, Dave Hancock, OILA’s immediate past president, said at the meeting.

Local businessman and OILA President Tripp Tolbert told the commission that he was able to contact the owner of the larger floating structure that began being moored in the sound in mid-October. Tolbert said that after some urging and persuasion, the owner moved his structure farther away down the sound.

“I operated one of the first floating businesses in Okaloosa County, but when I finished my season, I never went and parked my vessel behind someone’s house,” Tolbert told the commission. “I always left it behind my home or behind my commercial property.”

Roberts reminded the commission of Destin’s ordinance that provides some regulation on floating structures.

That ordinance, which was adopted by the Destin City Council last February, prohibits floating structures from most parts of Destin Harbor and other city waterways. The structures are allowed in certain areas, such as commercial marinas.

“It just seems to me that our county commissioners could do the same thing” for floating structures moored in the county’s jurisdiction, Roberts said. “Because I feel like there will be more and more (structures) coming and we don’t need another Crab Island behind our house. And it’s not even just that they’re so tacky to look at.”

Of more concern is the possibility of such structures breaking loose during a storm and becoming a hazard to other boaters, including commercial barges, Roberts said.

Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Ketchel, whose district includes Okaloosa Island and Shalimar, said she has noticed floating structures tied up under the Shalimar Bridge as well as by the island. She said she supports looking at ways of regulating the structures.

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