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Swell of Surfers Beats Back Flagler Beach Bid to Broaden Pier’s No-Go Zone, For Now

| October 27, 2011

One of the wave of surfers celebrating after their portion of the Flagler Beach City Commission commission meeting Thursday eveing. (© A.J. Neste)

Last Updated: 9:38 p.m.

Even amateur observers of the Flagler Beach City Commission might have known before the beginning of tonight’s meeting that the matter was settled before being discussed: the city commission, faced with throngs of surfers who make a specialty of challenging froth, was not going to move the no-surfing buffer around the Flagler Beach pier beyond 150 feet, where it’s been for years despite recurring attempts to enlarge it. It wasn’t going to be that daring. Not yet, anyway.

And none of the five commissioners favored the proposal to double the buffer to 300 feet. But there was a caveat.

“I don’t want to move it back to 300 feet, but,” Commission Chairman John Feind started, before he was interrupted by a room-full of cheers and applause. “Please, you didn’t hear the but yet,” he continued. “But I wouldn’t hesitate to do it if I don’t get the cooperation of the people here.” Feind wants more self-regulation. “It’s all too easy to move it to 300 feet and say you guys are out of luck, and it may come to that. I hope not, but it may come to that, and if you don’t cooperate it certainly may come to that,” Feind said.

For now, Dennis Bayer, an avid surfer whose law office is close enough to the surf that he was surfing today at lunch, will be part of an ad-hoc committee with Tom Gillin, the city’s parks and recreations director, and fishermen, to work on pragmatic means of ensuring that the tension between surfers and fishermen is reduced and means of self-policing enacted.

Last week the proposal to widen the buffer to 300 feet appeared on the commission’s agenda, the result of a summer and fall particularly rich in good surfing, good fishing and intensified friction between the two groups: surfers like to surf as close to the pier as possible, because that’s where the best waves crest. Fishermen pay to fish from the pier. They don’t like surfers tangling up their pastime. Complaints have produced some 40 police calls and eight written citations against surfers this year, and a discussion in the city administration about alternatives. The larger buffer was the only one that made it onto the agenda. Gilling summed up the proposal to the commission this evening, but not as a recommendation. Rather, he said, it’s one possibility among others that the commission and the public could hash out.

Surfers immediately mobilized last week, as they have on similar previous occasions going back at least two decades. The surfers were well organized, visually, numerically and rhetorically: Dozens spilled out of the commission chamber, which could only seat 88 people by fire regulation. Dan Sullivan, owner of Sully’s Surf & Skate Shop in Flagler Beach, had produced dozens of black and white t-shirts imprinted with an A.J. Neste photograph of the pier and surrounding surfers, and the words: “Don’t take our break/Florida Surfers Unite/ Save the Flagler Beach Pier Surf Zone.” Supporters bought the shorts for $11 apiece, creating sharp glitters of black and white spots in the crowd.

Fishermen must have either heard that they’d be vastly outnumbered tonight, or chose not to represent themselves: the nearly two dozen people who spoke on the matter to the commission were all, with only one exception, surfers, advocates or supporters, including John Tanner, the former state attorney, Colleen Conklin, the school board member, and Andrew Coleman, a physician and the director of Florida Hospital Flagler’s emergency department. Coleman said in his five years at the hospital he’s never known of an injury related to a surfer hitting the pier, though safety, from the commission’s perspective, was the main, purported concern for a broader buffer.

Haley Watson, her voice breaking a couple of times, recalled the day when she was struck in the head and injured by a fisherman’s sinker in what to her appeared to have been an intentional strike.

While several surfers described themselves as fishermen as well (including Watson), the only man who spoke as a representative of the fishermen was James Allen, a veteran who’s been in the county for 30 years, fishing at the pier for most of those years. He recalled how the pier has long been a gathering point for veterans, and how, a couple of weeks ago, one of those veterans was upset: he couldn’t fish, Allen said of the fisherman, because of the surfers. That’s what prompted Allen to complain, and to start discussions with Gillin. “I don’t think there’s any citizen in Flagler County that wants to take away from young people the ability to surf, and surf where they want to surf,” Allen said, but that compromises had to be made. Allen will be party of the ad-hoc committee.

Commissioner Steve Settle noted that whether the buffer is 150 feet or 300 feet wouldn’t make a difference: if it’s it’s been difficult to enforce the 150-foot buffer, it won;t be any easier to enforce the 300-foot buffer. Commissioner Marshal Shupe echoed the same thoughts (“You have to coexist with your neighbor across the street. That’s the same type of concept, at least that’s how I see it,” Shupe said). He suggested that whatever markers exist to mark the 150-foot buffer should be painted more brightly, as a start. Commissioner Jane Mealy, sounding equally unimpressed with the imposition of a broader buffer, referred to two emails she received, out of a very large number, that made concrete suggestions (one of the emails was from Bayer), such as clearer signs, better education and the creation of a committee.

The commissioners spoke at the beginning of the meeting, making clear they were not about to change the buffer and essentially deflating whatever tensions had built up until then. But there was one surprise: after Commissioner Kim Carney spoke wishfully of seeing the same passions displayed on behalf of protecting the beach from being eroded as she was seeing on behalf of fishing or surfing, she made her own preference clear: no buffer zone whatsoever. It was likely the most original idea presented on the matter all evening. Let the surfers and fishermen police themselves, she suggested, and let the city take advantage of being known as an ideal place for surfing, with the freedoms–and personal responsibilities–that come with surfing. Carney got a rousing round of applause.

The matter was ended after about 90 minutes.

They were as well organized as a compact hurricane. (FlaglerLive)

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10 Responses for “Swell of Surfers Beats Back Flagler Beach Bid to Broaden Pier’s No-Go Zone, For Now”

  1. Kip Durocher says:

    My but how the breeze bends the grass over. Good job by all.
    Sounds like I missed a very patronizing lecture by Fiend.

  2. SW says:

    Guess we need some surfer police to keep the kids out of the 150 area. Sounds like all they need to DO is follow the rules which is 150 ft, stay out of that zone and you will not lose your pier area is what I heard. So lets see who does this without some excuse.

  3. John Smith says:

    Well Kip sounds like he told them you follow the rules or it will be changed. Its 150 ft all they have to do is stay out of it instead of pushing the issue sounds easy enough to do. If they don’t then they could lose there Break like they say. Fiend did not give them the OK to surf and bother the fishermen so we will see who does what.

  4. palmcoaster says:

    Great presence all the surfer boys and babes! Maybe now surfers and fishermen would collaborate better.. These fisherman can fish every day when the good waves to surf are only some days good enough to surf. How come the surfers do not complain all the time to Mr. Campbell? Only the fishermen go to the City officials to do so. Live and let live. Enough ocean for all.
    Now what happened to the dog ordinance to allow them on designated areas of the restaurants…? I could not stay that long after the two women council started their litany of listing all the events they attended and repeated the bad news that we all read about last week ….still with several agenda items to be addressed being past 9 PM. Where they aware that we went to the meeting for the agenda items and not to hear about their socializing in the community? That should be left for last on these meetings so the public can stay or go, if not interested. Agenda items should be addressed first for consideration to the citizens that make the effort to endure since 5.30 PM waiting for their issue to be addressed. Also all these rhetoric in favor of the great things done by the FCCOC by one of the women commissioners, is out of line and a waste of the citizens time present just for the agenda items, as many of us have serious second thoughts about the FCCOC. If not for that litany the meeting was fine.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    For those regarding the increment proposed by FPL in order to upgrade their nukes and almost inaudible announced by Commissioner Mealy in yesterday’s meeting, here is more clear;

  6. Nanci Whitley says:

    I thought it was a great meeting. It is just the way government is supposed to work. I was especially glad all the surfer kids were there and saw a respectful discussion that came to a fair conclusion. It was a good civics lesson for them. (they should get extra credit for being there:)

  7. John Smith says:

    Well as usual 12 hours after the meeting in the morning of Friday there was probably 4 or more surfers on the North side of the pier surfing with in at least 50 ft of the pier. SO MUCH for policing themselves. So when they wonder why the rules will change it is because they won’t follow the rules. To me that shows the disrespect they have for the rules and the law so they are not the perfect little surfers the represent themselves to be.

  8. surfjunkie says:

    cant think of two groups i dislike more. surfers and fisherman. both think they own the ocean. what a surprise they can’t get along.

    whaaaah! we want to surf every square inch of the beach and btw, locals only!

    whaaaah! we want to stand around with our lines in the water and catch nothing.

    well i ride a yamaha stand up jetski in the surf and both you groups can suck a big cloud of my 2 stroke smoke!

    i say ban surfing and fishng all together. that’ll solve this problem.

  9. Nanci Whitley says:

    All surfers shouldn’t be punished because of a few.

  10. John Smith says:

    All the surfers that want to follow the rules and NOT be MOVED back to the 300 ft need to do some protecting there surf against the few whether the few like it or NOT if its that important to them. The proof is up there all anyone has to do is look at who is violating the rules and do something like they did at city hall stand up for it and not let anyone ruin it for them. The police are not going to enforce it they have better things to do so it comes down to the surfers to take care of there own break as they call it.

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