Regulation for an environmentally sensitive practice on the beachfront of Estero Island should become easier for Town officials.
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council unanimously approved revisions to the Land Development Code provisions by amending an ordinance regarding beach raking, specifically mechanical beach raking, a process that involves the removal of material left by tides or beach goers on the sandy shoreline. The revisions have been properly vetted after all "rakers" have had all their issues addressed through Local Planning Agency hearings and Marine Resources Task Force work.
"This actually goes back to 2008. After getting a few complaints, we looked at some beach raking conditions and found that the way the ordinance was written, it was completely unenforceable and did not even allow staff to issues permits," said Town Environmental Sciences Coordinator Keith Laakkonen.
Beach raking will be easier to enforce now that Council has approved ordinance amendments.
Language was "cleaned up" in Chapter 14 of the LDC, such as the definition of mechanical beach raking and clarification of the "wrack line."
The mechanical beach raking definition originally read "the cleaning of the sandy beach seaward of the dune and vegetation line of trash and other debris on or near the surface by use of a rake or other similar porous device that penetrates no more than two inches below existing ambient grade and results in no removal of sand." It changed to "a method of maintaining the beach by pulling a prolonged rake or piece of chain link fence" that may be pulled behind a tractor, golf cart, ATV or other Town-approved vehicle "that meets the requirement of the LDC Sec. 14-6."
The wrack line policy states the raking of the wrack line (a well-defined zone of natural organic marine material cast on shore by the last high tide) is prohibited under normal circumstances. That section also reads "no mechanical or hand raking may take the place seaward of the wrack line or within 10 feet landward of the wrack line provided, however, that hand raking of the wrack line may be performed anytime to ameliorate (improve) hazardous conditions such as removal of sand castles or filling in of manmade holes on the beach."
Rake permit applications for a business must be submitted by the owner of the business that conducts the raking, the property owner or an authorized agent representing the property owner and have a current copy of the County business tax receipt.The raking business must carry $1,000 in liability insurance and name the Town as additionally insured. Nonbusiness property owners are exempt from requirement to carry liability insurance.
All business raking operators are required to attend an annual Town educational and training session that will address matters such as dune vegetation, sea turtles and beach-nesting birds. They also must sign a form to acknowledge they understand and abide by the Town regulations.
Another clause states mechanical beach raking may be done at night from Nov. 1 through April 30 only with Town-approved lighting on vehicles.
Permit fees (to be established with other license fees and effective Oct. 1, 2013) collected from beach raking permits will be used for environment education and restoration purposes only. Violations of the permit conditions may result in the rescinding of the permit as well as possible enforcement mechanisms in the code.
During a workshop in March 2012, council members held a discussion on beach raking and wrack line policy issues as they sought to groom proposed changes to cleaning and leveling the island's beachfront. Town officials reviewed Land Development Code Chapter 14 and considered staff-recommended modifications to a beach raking ordinance that was initially discussed by members of the Marine Resources Task Force in 2009 and later approved by the Local Planning Agency.
Beach raking permits began in 2008. Currently, roughly 100 to 130 properties are raked on a daily or timely basis.
"I think the biggest positive comes in the clarification and definition of the wrack line and providing property owners with the ability to do raking of some wrack material without being found in violation of the ordinance," said Town Manager Terry Stewart. "That and the ability to more appropriately control those folks who decide to be rogue and support those who operate within the rules."
Currently, all permit fees collected for mechanical beach raking ($25 per year) and restricted beach vehicles ($100 per year) are designated for environmental education and restoration. Revisions include discontinuing the beach-raking fee for private property owners by replacing the term "maintenance" with "grooming" and the requirement of annual licensing while allowing holes at the wrack line to be filled by a tractor or mechanical equipment.
Wrack is material cast ashore by the sea, like seaweeds and sea grasses. These marine castaways nurse protective dunes and allow an assembly of a unique natural community that brings life to the beach and begins an interesting food chain.
Hidden in the wrack are sea beans, dune plant seeds, seashells, marine invertebrates, soft and hard corals and sea glass. As wrack ages, it provides for the growth of fungi and other organisms. From there, smaller animals feed on the fungi in the wrack and, in turn, provide food for shorebirds.
Wrack clumps grow into low dunes then into substantial mounds that are capable of protecting upland property from wind-blown sand and storm erosion.