Flagler Beach Mayor Linda Provencher will not veto the bonfire ban in her city after all, should that ban survive a second reading of the proposed ordinance come May 24.
The Flagler Beach City Commission on Thursday voted 3-2 to ban nighttime bonfires on the beach during turtle nesting season, between May and October, ending, at least for those months, what many beach-goers consider a “right” or a “tradition.” Proponents of the ban cite the federal Endangered Species Act and the threat of potentially costly lawsuits should a connection be established between bonfires and damage to turtle nests or to hatchlings.
After receiving numerous calls and emails opposing the ban, Provencher said on Friday that she was weighing the possibility of a veto, should the ban survive the ordinance’s second reading. A day later, she had changed her mind. “For the record,” she wrote in a comment on FlaglerLive, “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 know how you feel.”
In an interview later, Provencher explained. “I personally believe it should go for a referendum and let the voters decide, but having said that, I feel like if I say I’ll veto it, then the people on either side are going to be more complacent.” Staying away from a veto–or a veto threat– encourages the debate to carry on, Provencher believes. Still, the calls she’s received suggests the majority of people are opposed to a ban.
Some criticism was leveled directly at Provencher for taking sides on the matter because the Golden Lion restaurant, where she works, had held a bonfire before, and Provencher’s involvement could have been perceived as a conflict of interest. Provencher said she’d received at least one communication raising that issue, which she disputes categorically. The restaurant’s bonfire was a one-time event in conjunction with a local radio station, not a recurring thing. “It’s not like the Golden Lion has a bonfire every week and I’m fighting for the Golden Lion,” the mayor said. “I don’t think the Golden Lion cares either way.” She stressed that she was not speaking for the restaurant, but that her employment there led one person to object to her speaking on a previous matter–mobile vendors around the city–simply because it involved food.
The more pressing issue for Provencher is the referendum on bonfires. The city commission voted 4-1 in late April to send the matter to referendum. The referendum would not be binding: the commission would still have to ratify it by way of an ordinance. But it would, depending on the turnout, give residents a clearer voice on the issue. That’s what the mayor wants to see, if the commission doesn’t somehow retreat from that vote. She intends to ensure that it’s on the agenda. “I probably will, if no one else does,” Provencher said.
When Jane Mealy, the commission chairman (who is opposed to a ban) started speaking about the referendum last Thursday, Commissioner Steve Settle (a proponent of the ban) raised a point of order, saying the matter was not under discussion just then. The mere issue of when to schedule a referendum will itself likely provoke its own debate. The city is not likely to schedule a special election because that’s costly, especially in a year with two elections coming up–the Aug. 14 primary and the Nov. 6 general election.
Meanwhile, ban or not, bonfires are not legal on the beach because a county-wide burn ban is in effect, due to the heightened fire danger. Absent serious rain, the ban could last until July, as it did last year, when rains returned.