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Mayor Weighs Veto as Flagler Beach, on 3-2 Vote, Bans Night Bonfires During Turtle Season

| May 11, 2012

Don't put out those embers yet.

The Flagler Beach City Commission Thursday evening voted 3-2 to ban bonfires on the city’s beaches during turtle nesting season, from May 1 to Oct. 31, the culmination of an often bitter debate that has fractured the city commission and divided residents.

But Thursday’s vote, at first blush a victory for Commissioner Kim Carney—whose persistence made the vote possible—is far from the last word as Mayor Linda Provencher may veto the measure should it pass the commission again on second reading, in two weeks.

Linda Provencher. (© FlaglerLive)

Linda Provencher. (© FlaglerLive)

“I’d hate this to be a veto,” Provencher said Friday, but she said she’d been receiving dozens of calls at work (at the Golden Lion in Flagler Beach) “from citizens today who are very upset because they thought it was going to a referendum.” She added: “Unless the public calms down, it may be a veto.”

The mayor does not vote on ordinances in Flagler Beach, but has the veto power, which nullifies the passage of an ordinance unless it is overridden by a super-majority of at least four votes. The bonfire ban doesn’t have four votes, nor are either Commission Chairman Jane Mealy nor Commissioner Joy McGrew at all likely to switch votes. Mealy and McGrew are close allies of Provencher’s on a recast commission. (The trio celebrated McGrew’s and Provencher’s election victory at the Golden Lion together in January.) While the veto power is very rarely used, and mayors are loath to use it, it is also a powerful means of steering discussion before its use: by merely intimating that she might veto the measure, Provencher is hoping that one of the commissioners in Thursday’s majority backs off, prompting either a re-writing of the ordinance or a re-thinking of the issue altogether.

Either way, it assures that the bonfire matter is as unsettled as ever, as is the referendum on that very question, which the commission had approved two weeks ago on a 4-1 vote (with Carney in dissent).

“So does that mean the referendum is gone?” Provencher asked immediately after Thursday’s 3-2 vote.

“I don’t think this action precludes us from doing a referendum at all,” Carney said.

“If we pass an ordinance that says no fires on the beach during turtle-nesting season,” Mealy said, “why would we go and ask the public what they think? I don’t get it.”

The commission could have clarified the matter then, but Commissioner Steve Settle raised a point of order. “That’s not what we’re discussing right now,” Settle said, ensuring that the referendum question—merely a different type of fuel for the bonfire debate—will be scheduled for another day.

Carney brought back the bonfire ban for action because two weeks ago, Settle had made a motion on the ordinance she was presenting, but a second was never called, and the motion did not follow its proper course. Carney wanted the vote on record. The ordinance calls for a ban during turtle-nesting season, from dusk to dawn, with fires permitted during the day. (Keep in mind that the ban is moot for now, because a county-wide burn ban is in effect.)

The key portion of Thursday’s meeting, however, was when Commissioner Marshall Shupe spoke: until then, four votes were clearly lined up—Carney and Settle for a ban, Mealy and McGrew against—but Shupe’s position was unclear.

Marshall Shupe. (© FlaglerLive)

“I won’t say that I’m not concerned about the turtles,” Shupe began, “but I will say that I’m extremely concerned about what happens to our beach as a result of fires on the beach. Popular or not, the way I see it—I’m going to bread a couple of lines here—some people that may visit or pass through our city don’t have the same concerns that we residents live by.” He spoke of concerns about damage to the beach, dangers in the form of pieces of wood, nails, glass, and the costly saddling of clean-up costs on city employees. “I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the wood, I’ve seen the tables, I’ve seen the furniture, and I guess on a list of one to four, I want to protect nature also, but at the same time I’m more concerned about how our beach looks, how it’s left. I realize that it may be one or two people out of a hundred that go down there and leave the remnants of a fire but I think it’s more common than we realize.”

“Commissioner Shupe,” Provencher asked him, “are you suggesting then that we outlaw bonfires all year round?”

Shupe paused. “I guess you could say that,” he said, “but I want a compromise.” He seemed to be willing, for example, to test a more permissive ordinance and gather data on the consequences, but wasn’t sure. “I’m going to flip here a little bit. I don’t think the mechanics of us allowing a fire on the beach are foolproof in terms of whether it’s money, whether it’s checking up on it to see what they’ve done. Who’s going to go down and check?” The fear of lawsuits, however, isn’t pushing him toward a ban, as it is for Settle and Carney. That makes Shupe’s position the most malleable, and the likeliest to change, should it change ahead of a Provencher veto: as the swing voter, he can essentially write the ordinance he wants.


But broadening the issue from turtle protection to beach maintenance, Provencher said, is one reason she was considering the veto: because the ban was no longer focused on turtle protection exclusively. And if it were, she said, then all lighting must be addressed, including tiki torches, flashlights, the Turtle Patrol’s ATVs and other luminous elements.

Several people addressed the commission on bonfires before the vote. “If you don’t have a problem, why are you creating a problem?” Rusty Place, an opponent of the ban, asked. Bob Chase wanted to know what the measures would cost either way: the cost of fighting a law suit, or the cost of fines. “You’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars,” Drew Smith, the city’s attorney, said, should a lawsuit be filed and a trial develop. Others noted that there is no explicit law banning bonfires on Florida beaches, and that crabs and raccoons, not lighting or human being, are turtle nests’ biggest enemies.

“Someone made the comment about tradition should go out the door,” Mike Evans said. “I’ve got news for you. I’m from Florida. Most of you all are not. And tradition says that I can enjoy my beach, that I can have a bonfire with marshmallows and drink beer, maybe even get a little romantic with mama. That’s part of my tradition and heritage, and I have a tendency to resent other folk trying to tell me how to live. But I understand we need to cooperate, we need to compromise. Now, my ting to you all is, you need to saddle up and do your job. Lead.”

In essence, the commission did, its lack of unity reflecting the division of the city on the matter. Carney is right: the ordinance doesn’t preclude a referendum. But nor would the referendum be the last word. An ordinance has to be.

Kim Carney (© FlaglerLive)

“Even if you put it up for referendum, that referendum is not binding,” Smith said, until an ordinance ratifies the referendum’s majority sentiment. “It’s not like a charter amendment, where once it goes out to the referendum, you’re compelled to put that into your charter. This is basically a straw poll if you put it out to referendum. There is no mandate to do one thing or not do another when you just put that kind of ballot question out there. It is polling your electorate. But there is no binding mechanism to however that vote turns out.”

Even after the 3-2 vote, the commission wasn’t done with the issue Thursday evening. Mealy had put forward a permitting mechanism for bonfires, outlining a relatively strict and detailed permitting process.

“I’m not sure there’s any need for item 14,” Mealy said, referring to her own item.

“Yes there is,” Carney said.

There was for a couple of reasons: the bonfire ban is not likely to stick. And even if it were, there are still daytime fires to permit, or, should the referendum lead the city to allow night-time bonfires after all, the permitting system would be in place to regulate them. That proposal passed unanimously.

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14 Responses for “Mayor Weighs Veto as Flagler Beach, on 3-2 Vote, Bans Night Bonfires During Turtle Season”

  1. Clint says:

    Yep…Nothing more beautiful and beachy then coming out in the morning an finding “still” hot ember fire mess left from the night before by the local drunks. You want to see what the Beach is really hiding, do a little digging the next time your lounging on the beach say about 6 inched down. You will never go barefoot again !!!!!

  2. Beach Goer says:

    They should not be banned, they should be controlled. As it is, you must get a permit from the Fire Department to have a bonfire on the beach. To get the permit, you must provide a drivers license or equivalent identification as well as the location that you are going to have the fire. With that, the police can take action against the people that leave a mess from their fire and don’t follow the provided rules. All they have to do is compare the location of where a mess was left with the records of fires for that particular night.

    As for the issue with the turtles, there should just be a requirement that you can only have a fire at least a certain distance from a turtle nest. 100 feet for example.

    • Rock Mollica says:

      Having any light 100 feet from a Sea Turtle Nest can and will disorient the hatchlings upon exit as the usually head for the brightest light, normally the horizon. A bonfire will cause the hatchlings to expend much energy trying to get to the water and leave them exposed on the beach to all preditors. In addition, lights on the beach can and will disorient female turtles trying to get back to the sea for the same reason, and may also cause her to drop the entire clutch into the sea if she becomes confused.
      What we have here is a simple choice. On the one hand we have an endangered species, and on the other a bonfire. I cannot be convinced that not having a bonfire during the hottest months of the year will destroy a family outing.
      The Mayor has a responsibility which goes well beyond her business, friends and personal preferences. These creatures are forced to exist in a world we are destroying and have to adapt to whatever changes to their beach, yes their beach (they have been here longer than we have) to survive. If we truly want to be stewards of our beautiful beach it may take a small sacrifice. Some of us pick up after our neighbors, collect balloons, bottles, fill holes. Preserving these beautiful amphibians will take all of us. Let’s do this together and focus on a species with no voice, and forget our personal desires

  3. Sandra Sites says:

    I attended this meeting Thursday specifically to hear arguments/opinions regarding the bonfire ban during turtle nesting season. I am in favor of the ban, and although I am not a Flagler Beach resident, I feel that as a person concerned about man’s impact on the world we inhabit, any of us have a right to oppose or change actions that have a detrimental effect on our world.
    Rock Mollica (previous post) sums up the relevant points for me, so I won’t repeat.
    One comment to Beach Goer: prohibiting bonfires within a certain distance from existing nests won’t prevent the fires from affecting the nesting of female turtles who would be deterred from approaching the beach to lay her eggs and may actually cause her to lose the eggs.
    I also am concerned about the comment from the mayor of Flagler Beach which appears to be threatening a veto,saying (quoted in the article) “Unless the public calms down, it may be a veto.” I’m not sure which public she’s referring to, the “dozens” who called her at work about it, or the many bonfire opponents, but I don’t think it is appropriate to veto a vote taken by the commission because those interested in the outcome are passionate about their position.
    Having any bonfires on the beach during turtle nesting season is against Federal law as it is expressed in the Endangered Species Act, and Flagler Beach is opening itself up to costly sanctions if it does allow it. Additionally, those other sources of light that the mayor referred to are included in the ‘artificial light” portion of the act, and are illegal on the beach during nesting season.

    • Lynn Gussman says:

      I am positively bewildered at why this is such a hot-button issue. Having bonfires on the beach during turtle nesting season is indeed against Federal law and for excellent reasons as addressed in these comments. It boggles my mind how a community would be permitted or choose to ignore these mandates. Banning fires during turtle nesting season would still mean that citizens can “drink beer, eat marshmallows and get romantic with mama” seven months out of every twelve and still protect an endangered species. Why not move your bonfire off the beach for five months out of the year? Are we so selfish and callous as a community that we would put our “right” to party ahead of the survival of an endangered species? Where is our sense of responsibility? To live in such a breathtakingly beautiful area such Flagler Beach is a privelige – let’s not abuse it.

  4. Chosaint ár Turtair says:

    This is a reach and teach defining moment for the entire community of Flagler Beach, requiring up front
    leadership that doesn’t always translate being popular. Throughout the eastern seaboard and the caribbean islands this turtle situation exists.

    Here is a point of view from Tadzio Bervoets, Nature Foundation Manager regarding St. Maarten’s position on their sea turtles. It also very aptly applies to Flagler Beach. Its sentiment echoed by dozens of public voices at your commission meetings. It is submitted here for readers everywhere…

    “Sea turtles have existed for well over 180 million years, even before the dinosaurs. St. Maarten
    (substitute Flagler Beach) is one of the few places in the region that has a nesting population of sea
    turtles, so we should do all that we can to protect their nesting areas.” – The Daily Herald, Cole Bay,
    Saturday, March 2012.

    The article further stated…..Sea turtle population numbers have plummeted to dangerously low numbers
    throughout the past century due to human impacts, bringing many species close to extinction, causing them to be listed as critically endangered. In order to reverse this trend, all sea turtle species are now
    protected by international laws and treaties as well as local laws.

    Here is a definitive read on the subject of sea turtles in Florida:
    http://www.law.fsu.edu/journals/landuse/vol132/butl.htm
    COASTAL PROTECTION OF SEA TURTLES IN FLORIDA . . . KATHERINE R. BUTLER

    The eyes of the world are upon you Flagler Beach. Please reflect moral and ethical judgement on this. It speaks for more than a few bonfire enthusiasts. It speaks for our entire region. We urge the Mayor to use this moment to reach and teach, and not be afraid or intimidated by her friends and customers at the Lion. “Business is business” must apply to her civic leadership in this case over her community friends and affiliates.

    This applies to all commissioners as well. Commissioners, please wear your civic leadership caps and not just your residential caps. I know its tough as elected officials exercising the will of the people (well at least those you align with), but Flagler Beach does not exist inside a bubble. A public official’s responsibility is to everyone.

    Your decisions are international on this one. We live in a different world than ever before. Please take responsibility for causes larger than your own desires.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    What about allowing the bonfires when the turtle season is over, only?

  6. ART WOOSLEY says:

    Appreciating the fact that the Golden Lion is currently rated one of the top ten beach side restaurants in the state, a recognition which as a long time customer I am in total agreement with. After all, it does have a wonderful location / view of the ocean, while at the same time offering both great food and service.

    Tony has without a doubt, worked very hard for many many years to achieve his success, and both he and his family deserve every bit of it .

    My question here however is, why on earth is our newly elected mayor now using this establishment the same place she is employeed, as her quasi mayors office. In her words, taking “dozens” of calls there, calls which directly effect important sensitive city issues such as the sea turtles etc. ?

    After all, she does have both a city e-mail address in addition to city & home phone numbers were she can be reached in a more secure way, any location that offers a business like setting for conversation regarding important city matters. if I am correct e-mails recieved are also copied to all commissioners .

    As a forty five year resident of our beautiful state, I also find it profound that a person who spent so many years on the public payroll as a (park ranger) one whose only job it was to protect our unique environment , now appears to favor marsh mellows over sea turtles.

    Sea turtles which I might mention, have considerably more longevity here in Florida than he, as they have been coming to nest along these beaches for a million years .

    I ask that our commission please consider, that this is not just about roasting marsh mellows anymore, or for that matter about people cleaning up their own mess, of course all are important.

    If anyone has not yet noticed, times have now changed here in F.B. gone are the simpler days this OLD TIMER talks about, the growth that many fought for is now upon us. This ever growing influx of people visiting our city, will certainly come complete with increased impacts / problems effecting many aspects of our lives.

    Therefore, the time has now arrived for our commissioners to kick it in gear, and to realize that growth now has to be recognized for those problems which it brings, and that the roasting of marsh mellows, must now give way to turtle nesting protection .

    I sincerely hope that our mayor will take any thought or threat of of veto off the table asap, and instead support and join with the three commissioners that have already made the correct decision regarding this matter.

    With all due respect, Commissioners Mealy and McGrew both have long track records showing they seldom vote in the best interest of our residents. Remember that they also supported short term rentals, RV’s,etc. etc. all without any adequate code enforcement in place to monitor abuse.

    Their poor decision making has brought considerable harm to our city, while at the same time placing a heavier burden on the backs of our city employees. Now they are once again voting thumbs down on our environment and therefore against our best interests, what’s next ?

  7. Linda Provencher says:

    For the record I will not veto this issue no matter which way it goes. I do however encourage people to come to the meeting to voice your opinion and let your elected officials no how you feel.

    • Rock Mollica says:

      I wish to thank you for reconsidering your previous position on this matter. It would be a mistake to use your position to defy State and Federal Law, even though they won’t mandate you to do so. To defy the law would put Flagler Beach as risk of Law Suits if anything were to happen. We welcome all who wish to have their concerns heard. The truth of the matter is, however, there won’t be any Sea Turtles present to state their case, so we will continue to try to educate and convince you all that these Turtles are a gift. We only need to discover how to use our special beach to bring dollars into the community, without making it more difficult for these marine reptiles to survive.

      Art Woosley: We all understand business and how a restaurant owner or manager would want to accommodate the desires of their patrons, but we are forgetting that the fact that these three species of Sea Turtle still come to our beach to lay their eggs. We can use that special bond to bring more people and dollars into our area. We should be promoting this blessing and educating all of those who vacation here. Word will get out and your cash registers will be rewarded. We need each other as allies who, working in unison, can make our four counties the place to be during the off season, to make it possible for people to possibly witness an event that very few have enjoyed. Lend out flashlights covered with red cellophane, or a Turtle Safe flashlight. We can work together and give moonlight walks with some Turtle Facts.
      Being on the Patrol I know how excited people get when we tell them that they are looking at a Loggerhead track, and that the female has indeed nested in front of their rental or hotel. People have stopped us to explain how they witnessed an emergence and watched the little hatch-lings scurry to the sea. This is an asset not many other locations can offer, and it’s right here under our noses.

      palmcoaster: This was raised at earlier meetings and bonfires not during Turtle Nesting Season would not be detrimental, as long as people do it responsibly for previous reasons stated (embers, glass, nails, burning of nest stakes)
      It is important to note that we are under a burn ban now and no fires are permitted, so why not extend a helping hand to a species who lived in harmony with their environment until humans came along and wanted to claim it, change it, without regard for other creatures or people. Just ask a Native American about how we have treated this land since we arrived here.

  8. B. Claire says:

    Mayor Linda Provencher,

    NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO….Do NOT veto the bonfire ban.

    http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTQwYvp1ldKiZHT7rcUQPOuL5PEWPQmRG-BMVcRD5gCXFRd5j7fwA

  9. BEACH CLEAN UP says:

    I HAVE BEEN DOWN ON THE BEACH AFTER ONE OF THE FLAGLER BEACH BURN PARTYS AND LET ME SAY IT WAS A MESS!!!! 15 TRIPS UP THE DUNE WALK TO REMOVE THE TRASH THAT WAS LEFT BEHIND FROM THE 100 OR MORE PEOPLE PLUS THE FIRE WAS STILL GOING AND IT WAS AROUND 7;30-8;00 IN THE MORNING .AS I WAS WALKING AROUND PICKING UP THE ALCOHOL CANS AND BOTTLES THAT WERE EVERY WHERE UP IN THE ROCKS YOU COULD SEE THE PLACES ON THE BEACH WHERE SOME ONE HAD TO GO PEE.IT WAS ALL IN THIS ONE AREA IN AND AROUND THE ROCKS YOU COULD SEE THE WET SPOTS AND BATHROOM TISSUE AND THERE WAS A LOT OF THESE SPOTS IN THIS AREA THE ROCKS ARE OUT OF SIGHT OF EVERY ONE SO THIS AREA WAS THE PORTA–POTTY .WHILE I WAS CLEANIG UP THE MESS A LADY WAS ON A FOUR WHEELER AND SHE WAS LOOKING FOR SOMETHING AROUND THE FIRE AREA . I ASK HER WHAT SHE WAS LOOKING FOR AND SHE TOLD ME DEAD TURTLES . SHE THEN TOOK ME TO A NEAR BY NEST AND SHOWED ME WERE THE BABY TURTLE CAME OUT OF THE NEST AND YOU COULD SEE THAT THEIR TRACKS HEADED SRAIGHT TO THE FIRE AREA . SHE TOLD ME THAT THE LIGHT FROM THE FIRE DRAWS THEM TOO IT AND YOU COULD SEE THAT WHEN THEY CAME OUT OF THE NEST THEIR TRACKS IN THE SAND HEADED SOUTH TOWARDS THE FIRE NOT EAST TOWARDS THE WATER .SHE WAS TRYING TO LOCATE SOME OF THE DEAD ONES BUT THE GHOST CRABS HAD GOT TO THEM FIRST .THE STATE OF FLORIDA HAS A BURN BAN FOR A REASON .ALSO IF YOU LET THESE LARGE PARTYS ON THE BEACH THAT HAVE LARGE FIRES OR A BAND STAND WITH GENERATORS AND A STAGE WITH LIGHTS –DJS AND THEY GIVE ALCOHOL AND DRUGS TO MINORS SO THEY CAN HAVE WET TEE- SHIRTS CONTESTS AFTER THE YONG GIRLS GET DRUNK .THEN THEY LEAVE A BIG MESS ON OUR BEACH IT NEEDS TO STOP!!!!!

  10. John Smith says:

    I also agree the mayor is out of line threatning to veto by intimidation and threats to Marshal Shupe for his vote. If anything that his vote did it was to get the permit issues for the fires off of the table and get it into the works as a way to make someone accountable for there messes they leave behind especially hitting them in there pocket book. The turtles are one part of it but the messes can leave a more longer lasting mark.
    Do not disgrace this commission with a veto from the golden lion.

  11. John Smith says:

    I would like to comment on the burn ban flyers that the pro bon fire people are spreading around town. They are the most ridiculous things I have ever read. Out of all the things on there list ONLY the bon fires for turtle season is correct. The flashlights and light sticks and the other crap they have on it are just a ridiculous way to try and get there point across and is far from the truth. No bon fires is all that is up for discussion during turtle season and in the fall as long as there is a permit process in place for them then so be it accountability for the fires is what is needed. This group can not even come across with the truth so they want to intimidate the commissioners into a wrongful vote. Look at the group that argued for the surfers and promised they would police themselves on staying away from the pier outside the yellow markers well that is just not happening either, so I would bet that policing themselves on a bon fire won’t happen either.

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