A 10-acre island located in Lake Butler known as Bird Island has long been a hotspot for partiers prone to playing loud music and littering.
The partiers who visit the island, which was designated a bird sanctuary in the late 50s, have been a chronic nuisance for lakeshore Windermere residents.
And for years, the Windermere residents have been able to do little except watch in frustration, because the town’s police department has no jurisdiction over the island or the surrounding water.
All residents could do is complain about the loud music to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But those officers, too, faced challenges when it came to enforcement.
“To do a trespass, they have to have someone who owns the property who's willing to say, ‘Yes, I want to prosecute,’” said Windermere Council member Bob McKinley. “That way, if the sheriff's department or Florida wildlife pull up and see someone physically on the island past the 'no trespassing' signs, they can actually do something.”
The issue of who actually owns the island is also a little murky because part of the island is owned by two private individuals and the other portion is owned by Audubon Florida, McKinley added.
Enforcement of the county’s noise ordinance is also problematic. If Orange County deputies working in a marine patrol unit were to hear a boat playing excessively loud music, they could not enforce the county’s noise ordinance without someone else making a complaint, McKinley said.
"If we can get it designated as a wildlife sanctuary, then that eliminates the need to contact the property owner to have them prosecuted. So it could possibly alleviate some of the problems out there." – Bob McKinley
“Orange County's noise ordinance is enforceable, but it can only be enforceable if there's a victim,” said McKinley, who serves as the town’s liaison for the Butler Chain of Lakes Advisory Board. “So if you live by the lake, and you hear some filthy and loud music coming from out there, you can call up the sheriff's office and tell them about it. So now they have a victim, but law enforcement cannot be the victim; they can't be the one to file the complaint and cite you for it. Then there's also the problem of trying to find out which boat the music is coming from. If you've got 30 boats out there all playing music, which one is the one you heard? So it's just a situation that has no real solution at this point.”
However, that may soon change. During the Jan. 8 Windermere council meeting, McKinley told Windermere Town Council members that the Butler Chain of Lakes Advisory Board is looking at the option of getting the island the state designation of Wildlife Refuge.
“Making it a wildlife refuge gives it a whole new precedence,” Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn said. “Before that, it was a bird sanctuary, and there wasn't a lot of clout. So that's a big achievement; that'll be a big plus if we can do that.”
McKinley said nothing is definitive at this point, but if the island receives the designation of wildlife refuge, then enforcement of the ‘no trespassing’ policy would be easier. And fewer trespassers would mean less litter and fewer partiers.
“What they're looking at now is getting it designated as a wildlife sanctuary,” Mckinley said. “If we can get it designated as a wildlife sanctuary, then that eliminates the need to contact the property owner to have them prosecuted. So it could possibly alleviate some of the problems out there. And from what I understand, it would make it easier for law enforcement to get somebody off the island. And that’s what they’re trying to do: keep people off the island. That's been a thing Bruhn has been working on for a long time, even though it's not a part of Windermere and it's really under Orange County. We only own down to the waterline, but it still affects us. The residents can’t even enjoy their backyard.”