Rental companies will have to pay $250 for ‘medallions’ for Turtle Beach Park program beginning July 1

Company owners still feel level of business at that location does not warrant county supervision

Blind Pass Lagoon is easily accessible at Turtle Beach Park. File photo

Representatives of kayak and paddleboard rental companies are resigning themselves to having to comply with a Turtle Beach Park management program Sarasota County will implement as of July 1, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

Still, several say they feel the program is unnecessary and that the expense of purchasing “medallions” — certificates to show their conformity with county guidelines — will be a burden, especially as they are owners of small businesses.

“Two hundred fifty dollars is definitely better than $500,” Nate Dunn, owner of Gulfside Paddleboards, told the News Leader in a May 11 telephone interview. Still, he continued, “I was hoping it would be less.”

However, William “Scotty” Scott, co-owner of Siesta Key Bike and Kayak, said of county staff members, “I think they’ve been very fair with us.” He told the News Leader on May 11, “They listened to our issues, and they helped us out. … We’re satisfied.”

When the News Leader contacted her on May 15, Sheila Lewis, co-owner of Siesta Sports Rentals, said, “We’re just really disappointed, [but] there’s nothing we can do about it.”

In a May 11 email to the firms, Rebekka Skwire-Cline, business development coordinator for the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, explained that the county has reduced the proposed cost of each medallion to $250 for the initial program period, which will run from July 1 though March 31, 2018. The original plan called for a prorated fee of $400 per vessel from June 1 through March 31, 2018.

Pedro Garcia, who manages the program at Ted Sperling Park, talks with Rebecca Cline at the open house on April 18. File photo

The reduced fee “will be evaluated during the program period and is subject to change,” Skwire-Cline added in a May 12 email to the News Leader.

“[W]e have heard from two commercial operators since announcing the expansion details,” she continued, “and both have been supportive.”

When the News Leader asked why staff chose to wait an extra month before launching the program, Skwire-Cline replied in the May 12 email, “Staff wanted to provide reasonable notice and felt that a July 1 starting date would give participating companies adequate time to make necessary preparations, submit their applications and receive medallions.”

Among the requirements for obtaining a medallion, a company must provide the county evidence that it has general liability insurance coverage of at least $1 million and it must name Sarasota County “as additional insured.”

The program will allow up to 16 vessels per launch, per guide, the application notes.

Since 2013, the county has had the same type of managed program at its Ted Sperling Park on South Lido Beach. Business owners who spoke with the News Leader pointed out that far more companies provide tours at Sperling Park than at Turtle Beach Park. “We don’t have the mangrove tunnels” at Turtle Beach Park, for example, which are a big draw for tourists on Lido, Dan Stein, owner of Siesta Key Paddleboards, noted during a May 15 telephone interview with the News Leader. “We’ve got signs [at Turtle Beach Park] about alligators and snakes …”

A map shows the Turtle Beach Park launch site and the parking area for commercial trailers. File photo

In her May 12 email to the News Leader, Skwire-Cline explained, “Although Turtle Beach Park draws fewer commercial operators of non-motorized vessels than Ted Sperling Nature Park, there is definitely a commercial presence.”

The official regulation for Turtle Beach Park, signed by Carolyn Brown, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, says, “The use of non-motorized water vessels, such as kayaks and canoes, has become very popular for the general public and has created a demand for CRTOs [commercial recreation and tour operators]. Certain launch sites within Sarasota County are very desirable locations for CRTOs, and … it has been determined that site specific rules and guidelines will aid in site management, natural resource protection and fair and equal site access for all users.”

Along with kayaks, paddleboards and canoes, the rule continues, other non-motorized vessels to which the rules will apply are rowboats, inflatable boats, rafts, sculls, dories and driftboats.

The application for a medallion comprises three pages. This is Page 1. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“To be clear,” Skwire-Cline wrote the News Leader, “the decision to expand the program to Turtle Beach Park was not driven by any specific company behavior, or by the volume of activity and it was not our intention to represent it as such.” She added, “Rather, the primary goal is the need to bring this site into compliance with existing County Code, [Section] 90-33 of Chapter 90 specifically (a)(12), (a)(15), and (c).”

Section 90-33 (a)(12) forbids “the sale or rental of athletic equipment, sports equipment, jet skis and other Watercraft, or any other items; provided, however, that the County may issue permits, or enter into license agreements, leases or other agreements for the sale or rental of any of the above on such terms and conditions as the County shall deem proper and in the best interest of the citizens of the County.”

Section 90-33(a)(15) prohibits “[s]oliciting or canvassing unless authorized in writing by County Parks and Recreation,” and Section 90-33(c) includes a statement explaining that county decisions regarding the issuance of permits for activities the County Code prohibits take into consideration the “[p]otential for adverse effects on the welfare of the public, including, but not limited to, safety, property, noise and light levels, risk, and natural, historical, or cultural resources[.]”

More facets of their frustrations

Referring to the rental company operators at Turtle Beach Park, Stein of Siesta Key Paddleboards told the News Leader, “we all get along great. We’ve been doing this for years.”

Siesta Key Paddleboards features numerous photos of visitors using the non-motorized vessels it rents. Image from the website’s homepage

Not only do representatives of the businesses assist clients, he pointed out, but they also help members of the public, and they even pick up trash.

“For Turtle [Beach], in my opinion, it doesn’t make sense,” Dunn of Gulfside Paddleboards said of the program.

Just as Sheila Lewis had pointed out to the News Leader after an April 18 county open house on the proposal, Dunn noted that the rental firms operating at Turtle Beach have been careful not to solicit customers on-site. Everything is handled through their shops, he added.

Stein and Dunn also expressed frustration with having to pay for medallions when they have few rentals during much of the year.

“July’s our busy month,” Stein pointed out. “I would want 20 medallions” for that month, he added, but during other periods, he rents only two or three paddleboards a day.

“I’m not sure how it will work out for us,” he said of the program.

Nate Dunn uses a paddleboard with a friend. Image from gulfsidepaddleboards.com

July also is part of the peak rental period for Dunn’s business. “Some of August is,” he continued, but then rentals slow down considerably until spring break starts again on the Key.

“This month, it’s totally dead,” Dunn said.

“I honestly have got to think about what I want to do,” Dunn added. “If I am to get any [medallions],” he said, [the number will] probably be 10 or fewer.”

Other details of the program

Although the initial proposal would have allowed businesses with medallions to offer tours at both Sperling Park and Turtle Beach Park, Skwire-Cline explained in her May 11 email to business owners that their certificates would be valid just at Turtle Beach Park. However, she noted, business owners who purchase medallions at $500 each under the guidelines of the Lido program will be able to offer rentals at Turtle Beach Park, too.

The terms and conditions of the new regulations include the advisory that CRTOs are prohibited from any type of solicitation on-site, “including canvassing, verbal call-outs, give-a-ways, or requesting sign-up for any membership or marketing/email distribution list; [d]iscussion of another company’s offers, costs, schedule in an effort to undermine competitors”; and the display of any signs, banners or other means of advertisements, other than logos or signs “painted on or attached to vehicle bodies … provided they are permanently affixed to said vehicle …”

Among the “General Site Requirements” listed in the Turtle Beach regulation is the provision for all firms to provide briefings to guests prior to any tour or rental. For examples, guests must be advised of the necessity that they adhere “to the ethical eco-tourism guideline of ‘Leave only footprints, take only pictures’”; that “feeding, touching or disturbing any plant, wildlife or habitat” is prohibited; and that fishing “pursuant to Federal, State and local guidelines is permissible only with a valid Florida Fishing License.”

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