Skip to main content
News
West Orange Times & Observer Sunday, May 22, 2022 1 month ago

Windermere readies for Bird Island hearing

Share
The Orange County Commission will discuss the proposed Boats and Water Safety ordinance, designed to address ongoing problems on Bird Island near Windermere, around 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 24.
by: Annabelle Sikes Staff Writer

After the Orange County Commission’s much-anticipated discussion addressing ongoing concerns about Bird Island fizzled without a decision of any kind at the work session on March 22 — and then was pulled from the commission’s agenda April 5 — the county finally will discuss the proposed Boats and Water Safety ordinance on Tuesday, May 24.

As written, the ordinance would designate a portion of Egret Island, also known as Bird Island located on Lake Butler, as a swim area and establish a vessel-exclusion zone prohibiting the operation of vessels within such designated swim area. 

The public is encouraged to attend and offer comments during the public-comment portion of the hearing.

PROPOSED ORDINANCE 

The revisions to the Chapter 8 Boats and Water Safety Code Ordinance would include creating Section 8-38, designating a swim area and vessel-exclusion zone in a portion of Lake Butler. 

The ordinance states that no owner, operator or person in command of any vessel shall permit the operation of or operate a vessel within the swim area designated by the subsection. 

In addition, the following vessels are exempt from the prohibitions contained in the section: vessels owned or operated by the owner of the island; vessels operating under emergency conditions during an emergency; vessels used solely for law enforcement, firefighting or rescue; or vessels used by an employee, officer or authorized agent of local, state or federal government for ensuring compliance with local, state or federal law or for performing other official duties.

At the BCC adoption hearing May 24, staff will recommend the ordinance update take place in two phases.

Phase One will “address safety, natural resources and wildlife issues at Egret Island by designating a new swim area and vessel exclusion zone at the island.” Phase Two will take place later in 2022 and “bring the ordinance up-to-date to meet state requirements for existing and proposed boating safety zones throughout the county and update language for enforceability of boating safety regulations.”

According to the staff, the area proposed for the swim area and vessel exclusion zone is a .76-acre shallow sandy area along the northwest side of the island and varies from 45 feet to 80 feet in width. It is about 540 feet in length and will be marked with buoys. Water depths in the swim area range from 1 to 3 feet at normal high-water elevation.

If the ordinance is approved, the swim area and vessel exclusion zone will be marked with buoys and be fully in effect this fall. A civil citation could be issued by law enforcement for vessels entering the swim area and vessel exclusion zone.

The costs for swim area buoys and installation, and navigation markers for additional boating safety zones, will be funded by the Windermere Water and Navigation Control District Municipal Service Taxing Unit.

WINDERMERE PREPARATION

Town of Windermere staff, officials and residents have been preparing for the hearing. 

Bird Island is only 10 acres. Its only inhabitants are birds and other wildlife, but the human intrigue and stories surrounding the island are plentiful.

For years, tales of underage alcohol use, partiers leaving trash and the illegal use of rented Jet Skis and other watercraft have become local lore. The area also has been the site of fatal crashes.

Mayor Jim O’Brien said he supports the proposed water ordinance on Lake Butler.

“(It is) the most workable solution to providing protection for the island and wildlife as well as reducing the safety and noise issues that arise from the large gatherings of anchored boats each weekend,” he said. “These gatherings mix swimmers and moving power boats in a tight area with poor visibility, strong wakes, and drugs and alcohol. Enforcement is challenging and the loud music from boats and deejays is an unwelcome nuisance to those of us who don’t want to live in a night club environment every weekend at our homes. The increased use of the Butler Chain has resulted in six deaths over the past three years, most due to negligence and accidents. While the ordinance may not be the perfect solution, it is the best option, and an alternative might take years to create or approve.”

Town Manager Robert Smith and Windermere Police Chief David Ogden both will attend, as well as several other town staff. 

In addition, the Town Council agreed to reschedule the May Town Council workshop from Tuesday, May 24, to Thursday, May 26, to allow for participation.

Windermere resident Bob McKinley believes there are several problems associated with Bird Island. 

“It used to be a nice shallow area where you could take your family and enjoy a day on the water,” he said. “The ‘me’ generation, as I call them — people (who) are only concerned about themselves and give no regard to their fellow man — have turned it into a party area.”

McKinley referenced prohibited access to the island, blaring music with profanity and the recklessness of jet skis with lack of boating safety rules. 

“The proposal before Orange County to create a swim-only area will move the boats further away from shore and do nothing to lower the volume of the music being played,” McKinley said. “There are many problems caused by these parties, and while the swim area may solve a portion, it will not solve them all. We need to change the laws concerning noise and make it so law enforcement can actually charge you without having another citizen complain. The problem with hotdoggers will continue. Some laws and ordinances need to be passed or changed and a much larger law-enforcement presence is needed.”

Dan Murphy, who has been visiting Bird Island since the late 1980s, said he will be attending the meeting. Although he is sympathetic to the citizens who have noise concerns, he does not see how it is different than any other areas in Orange County. 

“I understand that, but I don’t believe the proposal is going to solve that issue,” he said. “It’s just going to create a more hazardous condition for those of us who are not being abusive with the music, which seems to be their main complaint.” 

Rick Taylor, who also will be attending the hearing, said he has lived on the Butler Chain since 1969. Taylor also believes the main complaint of some residents is the noise and that they reference other issues such as the safety and the environmental protection to gain traction for their noise complaints. 

Murphy said his biggest concern is the safety aspect. 

“Yes, I think there are a number of people who are abusing the privilege of being able to go there,” he said. “But one of the other things I think they need to look at is controlling the access to the lakes better than they are now.” 

Taylor agreed, saying he does not understand how the ordinance would help with safety, saying he believes it does the opposite. 

He explained there is a 100-foot no-wake zone around any land on the Butler Chain and the 75-foot buffer will push the boats into the deeper and higher speed parts of the lake.

“The noise is by far the main issue of the Windermere residents, and I find it ironic that the Windermere boat ramp is not blocked off or privatized,” he said. 

Taylor said people can park in town, walk two blocks to the dock and get ferried to the island.

“If the Windermere residents were so hell-bent on reducing the crowd at Bird Island, you would think they would secure the areas they do have control of,” he said. “I was even told that a Windermere resident is paid to shuttle people out to the island. So, Windermere people want less people on the island but they don’t do anything in their own backyard to stop people from utilizing their property to get to the island.”

ATTEND THE MEETING

WHEN: No earlier than 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 24

WHERE: County Commission Chambers, 201 S. Rosalind Ave., Orlando

PAST COVERAGE

Orange County sets date for Bird Island discussion

No date set to revisit Bird Island ordinance

Windermere to ask county to re-address Bird Island

County decision could solve Bird Island dilemma

The Observer has invested in new technology, so you can enjoy a more personalized online experience. By creating a user profile on OrangeObserver.com, you can manage settings, customize content, enter contests and more, all while continuing to enjoy all the local news you care about — Click Here it's FREE.

Annabelle Sikes is a staff writer at the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She graduated in May 2021 from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in sociology.  Her past...

See All Articles by Annabelle

Related Stories

Advertisement