airboat

Airboat in the Everglades

The Alachua County Commission passed a motion Tuesday to hire a new rural services deputy and possibly purchase a new airboat on Tuesday.

The commissioners discussed different ways to enforce the airboat curfew. They allocated $20,000 toward the motion, which included hiring an additional third rural services deputy to help enforce curfew and the potential purchase of an airboat.

The motion passed 4 to 1, with Commissioner Mike Byerly in dissent.

The airboat curfew states airboats cannot be operated between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. due to excessive noise, which can cause disturbances to the sleep, peace of mind and welfare of residents.

Airboat activity is predominant across Alachua County in Orange Lake, Newnans Lake, Watermelon Pond, Lake Santa Fe, Lochloosa Lake and Little Orange Lake. Airboat activity spikes during months with alligator and waterfowl hunting, which spans from August to January.

Byerly said he felt a sense of deja vu discussing the topic considering airboat curfew enforcement has been a topic of discussion for about a decade.

“We’ve come full circle from that again, and we’re back to what I think is the worst, most expensive, least effective way to enforce this ordinance, which is to pay overtime law enforcement officers to chase people around the lakes in boats,” Byerly said. “That’s smacking the mosquito with a sledgehammer.”

Byerly suggested evaluating other plans fully instead of committing to the heavy-handed law enforcement route that results in misdemeanor charges on people’s records.

He suggested evaluating a plan that uses code enforcement officers with a non-confrontational approach in parking lots a few times a year to take photographic evidence and send people citations.

“I don’t feel like we need to rush to adopt a plan just to say that we did something if it’s the wrong plan,” Byerly said.

Commissioner Ken Cornell, who lives on Lake Santa Fe, noted the differences between the presence of a law enforcement officer and a code enforcement officer.

“When ASO is present, we have much less of a problem,” Cornell said. “I think it’s a law enforcement issue, it’s not a code enforcement issue. I think having a presence on the lake prior to 7 [p.m.], a preventative presence, and then a handful of enforcement activities by a law enforcement officer will solve this problem.”

Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Col. David Huckstep emphasized his need for equipment and personnel to enforce the curfew. He said he is already stretched on personnel covering the county’s 911 calls.

“We’ve talked about this for 10 years. You keep wanting enforcement, then you don’t want to take the enforcement action,” Huckstep said. “Our proposal has been and has always been I need the tools to do the job and I need the personnel.”

Commissioner Charles Chestnut said he felt the issue’s resolution was long overdue.

“I’m at the point that we gotta try something. We’ve just been bickering over dollars and money,” Chestnut said. “If it is a serious issue to the residents on Orange Lake, or any lake, then we need to do something.”

Tien is a first-year journalism major at the University of Florida.