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Bonfire Embers Still Crackling in Flagler Beach As 2 Commissioners Plan Clashing Initiatives

| May 4, 2012

The sands of Iwo Jima come to Flagler Beach. (Don Solo)

When the Flagler Beach City Commission agreed, at the end of a nasty hour of debate on April 26, to let voters decide in a referendum whether to allow bonfires on the city’s beaches, you might have assumed that the issue was put to rest, at least until that referendum.

You’d have assumed wrong.

The bonfire issue will be blazing again come next Thursday’s commission meeting as diametrically opposed intentions by Commission Chairman Jane Mealy and Commissioner Kim Carney have independently set up yet another clash over the matter.

And that’s before the commission figures out when to put the matter to referendum—in the August primary, in the November general election, or in Flagler Beach’s own municipal election next March. Commissioners never broached that subject, which is as fraught with political implications as the more fundamental issue, because a referendum next March would essentially render any regulation this season moot—unless the commission takes further action. Even a referendum in August means that for more than half this year’s turtle season, beach fires will not be regulated.

Unless Mealy’s motion for a permitting system, which she intends to bring up Thursday, wins a majority. That motion will be no less contentious than then previous batches of fuel that have kept the bonfire wars burning.

“We had talked last time that we have these two different permit applications,” Mealy said Friday, “and we talked that I would combine the two, which is what I did, believing that we had consensus to do that. Maybe we didn’t. But that’s why I put it in there.”

Bonfire-burners have never been required to apply for permits before lighting up. The proposed system would set out parameters within which fires would be allowed, including a 100-foot buffer from turtle nests, and beyond 5th Street North or 5th Street South. The application would create a written record linking fires to those responsible for them, that way if rules aren’t being followed, the city can hold individuals accountable, and levy a fine. The fine’s amount hasn’t been set.

Last week the commission couldn’t agree on whether to ban or allow bonfires by ordinance. So it punted to a referendum. The permitting structure is a different way of saying that the commission is endorsing fires on the beach, so its approval will be no less contentious, let alone assured. It’s not an end-run around the referendum, Mealy said, but a measure to ensure that something is in place in the meantime. “In the interim,” Mealy said, “if the burn ban ever gets lifted, until we have the referendum, people will still be able to have bonfires, and I think we ought to have a permit that tells us who it, is, where they’re going and all that.”

Carney had begun last week’s debate on the matter by laying out the legal reasons why the city should back a ban on bonfires. But she also made her position on permitting clear: “If we do not find our way through this and the ordinance does not pass as written,” Carney had said, “I’d like to stay on subject and address the need to take the permit out of the ordinance completely. If I were the fire chief or fire inspector in this city and know what I know now, I would not knowingly approve any permit for a fire on this beach during turtle nesting season. I would refuse to sign it. By allowing and permitting this fire, I believe there is exposure under the 2011 state statute 379.2431 [the Marine Turtle Protection Act]—I won’t read it verbatim—but it sets us up for another party to a take. We are setting our employees up for risk. If you in fact do want to under-regulate, take the permit out. We have not been issuing them for years, so why would we start now?”

That’s not Carney’s only issue.

At that last meeting, Carney says, Commissioner Steve Settle made a motion to amend the proposed bonfire ordinance to specify that bonfires would be barred between dusk and dawn. Settle made the motion at precisely 8:06 p.m. The motion never got a second. But it was on the floor: it didn’t die, because Mealy never actually called for a second. Rather, Commissioner Joy McGrew began outlining why she was opposed to a ban, prompt9ng Settle to address McGrew’s points. The commission’s debate went on from there, never addressing the Settle motion, right through to the public-comment period, which featured eight speakers. That period concluded with Settle making the motion for a referendum, which was seconded and approved, 4-1, with Carney in dissent.

None of the commissioners had apparently remembered Settle’s original motion. Carney pointed it out a few days later in an interview, after going over a recording of the meeting. Mealy on Friday was aware that the matter might be brought back up at the next meeting, but she was under the impression that it related to the second Settle motion—the one concerning the referendum, which was handled properly through the vote.

“We still do not have a vote on the ban,” Carney said. “A referendum is basically abducting our authority and our responsibility, which is to vote and to do what’s right for the city.” Carney’s point, she said, was that “there was a motion on the floor, the chair did not call for a second, which I would have seconded if she had called for one, and that I’m hoping will force a vote.” She added: “We seem to be hung up somewhere on somebody not wanting to get a vote.”

Carney said she had consulted with the city’s attorney about the procedure, and felt on firm ground to proceed and seek a vote on the motion, which she will likely make.

Carney and Mealy had a bit of a run-in during the last meeting when Carney suggested, without specifying names, that some people had not read the law at issue controlling turtle protection. Mealy took offense and rebuked Carney, asking her to address only the issue without leveling allegations she felt were obviously directed at commissioners. Carney complied.

The tension was revealing of the disagreements and difficulties the bonfire issue has unraveled among commissioners, who have yet to find their way clear of it. Mealy’s and Carney’s plans for the May 10 meeting suggest the embers are, burn ban aside, still crackling.

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13 Responses for “Bonfire Embers Still Crackling in Flagler Beach As 2 Commissioners Plan Clashing Initiatives”

  1. B.Claire says:

    Just a tad confused…it is nesting season, right?

    So…bonfires are or are not permitted?


  2. Linda H. says:

    How long will it be until they tell us we can’t go to the beach without a permit or can’t go at all? This is the direction in which we are heading.

  3. palmcoaster says:

    Just in case many don’t know around here….at least in NJ, you can’t put a foot on a beach unless you enter thru a state park and “pay a fee” wether on a car or on foot. If on foot you have to pay “to park your car a pretty high fee” Now if you are wealthy and can afford to live beach front then, no fees no problem.
    I never went to the beach in NY, but I was told is the same. So we have it pretty nice here and I am proud for all those that are battling now to keep it the way it is, here! Kudos to Linda H. You are right today the bonfires, tomorrow just the plain right out free access, you will be fighting for !
    I am all for the turtles but when their rights supersede the safety and rights of humans I do have a bit of a problem. I think that sea turtles can perfectly coexist with humans as did for all these thousands of years. In Daytona on turtle season peoples safety is broken by muggings, robberies and violence in darkened water fronts, to protect the hatchlings. I do not see that in South Florida how come..? Maybe they do not have ocean front, wealthy zealot dwellers like “the lady “of Volusia County?

  4. PalmCoast says:

    We have “slow” zones for the safety of Manatees….I believe making it a safe zone for turtle nesting is just as important!!….there is plenty of beach….if there is a “need” for a bonfire move it far away from the turtle nesting areas!!

  5. Art Woosley says:

    Without a doubt, any properly informed and concerned resident will certainly vote NO to any referendum addressing bonfires on the beach during turtle nesting season. So now the commission should stop talking this to death and get the courage do there job. Follow Commissioner Carneys’ lead, there is no need whatsoever to waste tax payer money and staff time in such a flagrant manner.

    Make the only possible decision, NO fires on the beach during nesting period.

    Then require written notification to the city hall & fire dept, for all other fires in non season, a notification and a fifty dollar deposit should be included that the fire location will be left clean of all debris and returned to it’s natural condition.

    If the site is not returned to it’s natural condition the very next next morning, the deposit becomes non refundable.

    We as a city must not continue to allow our city and it’s beach to be a dumping grounds for other peoples beer cans, chicken bones, diapers etc. and then expect our city workers to have to clean up the mess, and our residents to pay the bill.

  6. happening now says:

    Just say NO!!!!! FInd someplace else to party, maybe your own home.

  7. David says:

    Bon fire night is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. It is a sign to celebrate with friends, good food, good music. I remember growing up and attending many bon fires nights. Come on FB city council members don’t be party poopers, relax and enjoy.

    • JP says:

      In Spain, they have the night of St. John bonfires, it’s a city wide event. It brings out thousands to the coastline. The purpose is to encourage people to collect dry dead wood and brush that is a fire hazard in the spring, and bring it to the beach to burn. The event is supervised by the fire department, and brings lots of money to local buisnesses, its an all nite party, oh yeah you can drink on the beach is Spain…I forgot this is not a free country…nevermind…

  8. B. Claire says:

    Bon fire night is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years…

    Bet if turtles had fingers instead of flippers, they just may post …uhhh partiers, believe we may have been here FIRST…and for a slightly more important reason than parties and beer…not that there’s anything wrong with that…just not in Turtle Territory. Thank You….We Heart Humans!

  9. happening now says:

    Why not have the fire burning beach party, etc outside FB limits???? Wonder how that would fly?

  10. John Smith says:

    They are having there parties up just south of the Iron Boot on the beach between the campground and the first house south of it. Why are they not just having them up at Varn park that is in the county north on A1A where there would be parking and restrooms oh wait a minute the county has probably turned them down also. There parties are trashing that part of the beach by walking over the dunes to get down to it and leaving there garbage on the beach. I can tell you they had a party at north 6th street 2 weeks ago and there DJs were saying over there speaker system ” f–k FB this is our beach and we will do what we want it is our beach and I say again F–k FB” This was in the middle of the day and early evening when there is kids and families on the beach. There was plenty of witnesses to this event and have complained about it. This is uncalled for and we do NOT need this going on on the beaches of Flagler Beach. If you go to there Face Book page they tell you to IGNORE THE BURN BAN lets party, which shows they have NO respect for others even though they go to the FB city Commission meetings and put on how innocent they are to the public. Why don’t they rent a building and have a club where they can party without all these problems and out of site where they can say what ever they want as long as they are over 21.

  11. JH says:

    This is not necessarily a moral or ethical issue. The reason why we have listed species is because there are enough people out there that don’t care whether or not the flora and fauna that we live among live or die that federal agencies have to get involved and protect species under statutes and acts passed through congress. Here is the part that pertains to sea turtles and man-made sources of light:

    62B-55.005 Prohibition of Activities Disruptive to Marine Turtles.
    The following activities involving direct illumination of portions of the beach should be prohibited on the beach at nighttime during
    the nesting season for the protection of nesting females, nests, and hatchling marine turtles:
    (1) The operation of all motorized vehicles, except emergency and law enforcement vehicles or those permitted on the beach
    for marine turtle conservation or research.
    (2) The building of campfires or bonfires.

    Specific Authority 161.63 FS. Law Implemented 161.163 FS. History–New 3-30-93, Formerly 16B-55.005.

    Bonfires on Flagler Beach during nesting season, as fun as they may be to attend, are in direct violation of this code. I don’t know why the issue is even on the table for discussion. City ordinances shouldn’t override federal code.

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