The Apalachicola city commission is moving forward with an updating of the rules governing the Battery Park marina, which if passed, would mean the phasing out of all liveaboards.
By a unanimous vote, commissioners Tuesday afternoon agreed to pass the measure on first reading, setting up a more thorough debate in January.
The commissioners’ decision came after hearing strong opposition from Ron Bloodworth, who is representing an ad hoc group of charter captains who want the proposed ordinance trashed and a new committee set up to start from scratch.
“There’s not a first local-born and raised person here who was participating on that committee,” he said.
Chief among his criticisms were that charter captains were being singled out to pay a $75 annual fee to launch their boats. “The charter captains of this county bring a lot of money into Apalachicola,” he said. “It’s a very small amount of money (to pay) but it’s discrimination and we’re not going to stand for discrimination.
“It’s a piece of trash in my book,” Bloodworth said. “It’s loaded with Gestapoism. I’m proposing that the commission trash this piece of junk and start back with locals in it, one with real live Apalachicola residents on it.
“And it should have some local women on it,” he added. “They have common sense and they would not do some of the things in there.”
Gulf County residents Dr. Huy Nguyen and Lauren Jones, who own a liveaboard at the marina, both voiced concern.
“We would like the opportunity to be involved,” Jones said. “We were blindsided by this, that we have to leave. We would like the opportunity to be involved.”
Jones was referring to the fact that if adopted, the ordinance would give liveaboards a year to clear out.
Nguyen, an immigrant who served as a Navy officer in Iraq, said he did not get a draft of the ordinance until Tuesday.
“The whole process of this thing has not been reflective of who we (Americans) are,” he said. “Give us a chance to be part of the solution.”
Apalachicola resident Jim Brown, a former head of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s law enforcement division, and chairman of the Battery Park committee, said the $75 annual fee for guides was instituted after they requested the Battery Park restroom be operational for their customers.
The city opened the bathrooms, and the committee felt it a good idea to use that fee to pay for the upkeep of the facilities. “The intent of that money was to pay for the cleaning of restrooms,” he said.
Commissioner Adriane Elliott, an Apalachicola native who championed the ordinance, said the committee agreed to widen the definition of who would pay to all commercial vessels. She said that as the guides purchase occupational licenses, that money would be earmarked for bathroom cleanup and upkeep.
Elliott stressed the committee has been inclusive, listening to at least two charter captains on it, and has reached out to refine the ordinance based on input it has received.
“You would be hard-pressed to find any marina that doesn’t charge an occupational fee,” she said. “Buying an occupational license is fair play for this.”
She agreed that “liveaboards historically have been a contentious issue,” and noted that while they have never been expressly allowed, the harbormaster has had discretion to allow them to remain.
“That’s called a good old boys club, granting special exceptions that provide no benefit to the entire community,” Elliott said. “To allow them would be an unsound and unethical decision. I cannot see a reason to allow liveaboards.”