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Why isn't floating structure ordinance being enforced near Peanut Island?

Posted at 9:39 PM, Oct 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-20 21:39:32-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Private property threatened and even damaged. That’s the reality and constant concern for our neighbors who live and work near a scenic spot in Palm Beach County.

Now they’re begging for enforcement of a county ordinance.

A hurricane or strong winds can spell trouble for homes, boats, and businesses near Peanut Island. But WPTV has learned that a local law meant to help prevent this isn’t funded yet.

"The area around Peanut Island is a biodiversity hotspot because of where it’s located and it's proximity to the inlet," said Deborah Drum, the director of Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resources Management

Postcard worthy, picturesque waters dotted with floating structures, liveaboards, and sunken derelict vessels, moored or anchored to the sea floor that some say are dangerous and need to go.

"If we get any type of strong winds, some of these do break free," said resident Molly Flemming. "It’s just a hot mess."

Over the years, Flemming has learned the hard way and has the pictures to prove it.

"Probably about half a dozen times they floated up on our dock, destroyed our finger peers, the sea wall," said Richard Bright, the manager at the nearby Buccaneer Marina. "These things break lose, float into our docks. It’s just a mess."

A mess that could happen again.

"We just don’t really have our finger on the pulse," Drum said.

Despite a county ordinance initially approved in 2015 and updated and amended with teeth in June of 2021, banning floating structures in county waters.

A floating structure, according to the ordinance, does not have a registration number, a rudder or steering mechanism, and has no means of propulsion on its own.

"It is not being enforced currently. We have the option to enforce it. We have yet to get the funding in place to do that," Drum said.

Drum said the program is right where she would expect it to be at this point in time, 16 months after it was amended and seven years after it was initially approved.

The ordinance prohibits anchoring or mooring of floating structures in waters within the county, and can lead to their removal and destruction if violated.

"Why isn’t this funded as we sit here today?" WPTV Contact 5 investigative reporter Michael Buczyner asked Drum.

"We just really haven’t had the opportunity," Drum responded. "The ordinance was put in place in June of 2021 and we’re in the process of gathering data, metrics, getting information about the breadth of the problem so we can make a more informed and grounded determination of what the funding needs are."

The county estimates 16 floating structures in unincorporated county waters, but that number is fluid and can change when enforcement begins.

"Just a lot of unanswered questions," Drum said. "The bottom line is that there’s so much we still don’t know without those initial assessment activities, and once we have some answers to that, it will help clarify a good path forward for us."

"So are we talking months or years before you’d be able to enforce this?" Buczyner asked Drum.

"I can’t say right now. I don’t know. We’re trying to work very fervently making it much sooner than later," Drum said.

In the meantime, it’s a waiting game and Flemming isn’t interested in playing.

"I think they need to come in, clean it up, and put signs out there that say no moorings, no overnight anchoring," Flemming said.

Drum said she’s continuing to look at all funding options.

This ordinance does not apply to derelict vessels, which the county removes every year.

WPTV Contact 5 is also working to learn if any of those moorings near Peanut Island are legally permitted by the state.

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