No date set to review Bird Island order | West Orange Times & Observer
After an order that would have addressed concerns about Bird Island in Windermere resulted in no action by the Orange County Commission, Windermere leaders, residents and the County Commissioner for District 1, Nicole Wilson, find themselves without an answer – and without a resolution.
The county commission was scheduled to discuss the issue at 9 a.m. in its March 22 shop meeting, but it was delayed by more than seven hours.
At the end of the workshop, the Departmental Commission took no action.
“He just died,” Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith said. “It’s pretty much in limbo at this point. We have no idea when it will come back for discussion. We just want them to deal with it. If they’re not in favour, fine , but at least discuss it in a meeting regarding the ordinance itself.
At its April 12 meeting, Windermere City Council ordered Smith to draft a letter to the county commission urging them to address the issue.
But to date, nothing has changed.
As written, the ordinance would designate part of Lake Butler as a swimming area and establish a vessel exclusion zone prohibiting the operation of vessels in that designated swimming area.
The order includes an effective date of April 1. But no action was taken at the March workshop, and it has not yet been postponed for discussion.
Wilson wants to know why.
“The updated Boat and Water Safety Ordinance has been reviewed and approved for over a year, with input from the (Town) of Windermere, Butler Chain of Lakes Advisory Council , the FWC, the Audubon Society, (Orange County Sheriff’s Office), the Windermere Police Department and affected residents,” Wilson wrote in an April 19 email to the director of the Division of Protection. of the Environment, David Jones “There have been multiple public engagements, well-publicized and well-attended public meetings and countless hours of work by your staff and my office.”
Wilson said the item was removed from the April 5 county commission agenda. She asked for the rules of procedure invoked to motivate the action. She also asked members of the Orange County administration to give District 1 residents a date for an adoption hearing so they can plan to attend and support the update.
“If an entire year’s work by EPD and all other stakeholders is in limbo because a single board member has questions but chooses not to attend stakeholder and public meetings on this subject, I think it would be prudent to explain his authority to do so,” Wilson said.
Hannah Gutner, Wilson’s political aide, confirmed that the council member Wilson was referring to was Mayor Jerry Demings. She said the Bird Island part of the agenda was removed “at the mayor’s discretion.”
“We have not received any information from the mayor’s office on the rationale for removing this article,” Gutner said in an email.
As the summer boating season approaches, Wilson said she’s worried the delays will pose an increased risk to public safety.
Demings did not respond to requests for comment by press time Tuesday.
Denise Cochran, media and communications spokesperson at the EPD, responded on behalf of the mayor.
“Given the public safety and other concerns and alternative solutions raised by members of the public at the March 22, 2022 County Board of Commissioners meeting, county staff require additional time to resolve the issues. that have been raised, including research and coordination with the law. law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders,” Cochran said in a prepared statement.
Cochran said the intention was to bring the ordinance back to council in the “near future”.
The EPD said it was working to find a date when the item could be fully discussed and would notify the public of the new hearing date as soon as it was confirmed.
Bird Island is only 10 acres. Its only inhabitants are birds and other wild animals, but the human intrigues and stories surrounding the island are many.
For years, stories of underage drinking, revelers leaving trash, and illegal use of jet skis and other rented watercraft have become local lore. The region has also been the scene of fatal accidents.
Rick Taylor said he had lived on the Butler Channel since 1969 and often frequented Bird Island. While he acknowledges that crowds have increased over the years, he believes the ordinance “will do nothing to reduce crowds”.
“If the people ‘on’ the island are a problem, putting up a black chain-link fence would greatly stop that,” he said. “If loud music is the problem, this order will only make it worse. If the boats have to anchor further away, it makes sense that they play the music louder. If safety is the issue, this order will only make it more dangerous as the boats will be deeper and people will have to swim between anchored boats. It seems that this order, although well-intentioned, will in no way help what it is intended for.
However, some argue that the county should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
“The proposed order may not be perfect, but it’s a start, and it’s time to start,” Linda Wells said. “These delays are ridiculous and seem to be about avoiding the problem(s) rather than chance. Let’s get started!”
A Windermere resident, who wishes to remain anonymous due to negative interactions with the Bird Island crowd, sent a letter expressing her concerns to the Commissioners on March 21. She has lived next to the Windermere boat launch for 34 years and close to Lake Butler. and Bird Island. She said the area was once pristine and quiet, but has now gradually changed, noting parties with lots of noise, alcohol, litter, trespassing and more.
“I applaud and fully support the proposed order to establish a no-boat zone around this area,” she said in the email. “I would prefer an even larger restriction zone and hope that it will be enacted if the need arises. I expect you will receive strong opposition from people who are organized on social media and wish to carry on as if nothing has happened on the island. I ask you to consider the longstanding and very real concerns that prompted this action: the protection of an established wildlife sanctuary, the safety of all people on (and off) the water, and the right of everyone to enjoy lakes reasonably. »
ORDER ON BIRDS ISLAND
The County Board of Commissioners believes it is in the interests of public health, safety and welfare to designate part of Lake Butler as a swimming area and to establish a vessel exclusion zone prohibiting the operation of vessels in this designated bathing area.
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