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Guest opinion: Ordinance is not about fishing, it’s about location and safety

April 7, 2012
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Fishing is certainly an honored tradition, and uniquely part of the Florida lifestyle we in Cape Coral hold dear. This coming Monday, the Cape Coral Council will NOT be debating the importance or value of fishing in our community. We WILL be debating how best to protect the health and safety of fishermen and pedestrians from accidents on and under dark and narrow bridges. We also will be answering what we will do when one person's fun starts walking right over another's rights, even in their own homes.

Over the past several months, many residents have approached me, as their Council representative, with concerns just like this on their property - ranging from basic trespassing to human waste and even blatant intimidation. The fact is, most of our neighbors out fishing are good neighbors, but owe it to residents in these areas to protect them and their property from this kind of abuse. How can we eliminate the maybe 10-15 percent of abusers while best protecting the enjoyment of fishing on the Cape for everybody else?

My concern simply boils down to our responsibility as a City Council for balancing private property rights with protecting a time-honored part of Cape Coral's leisure lifestyle. Homeowners who merely want to enjoy the Sunshine State in their own back yards should not have to deal with uninvited guests at all hours of the day and night. Some of whom sadly act with a rude and callous disregard for their homes, yards and neighborhoods. The unsafe conditions for fishermen clad in dark clothing, interfering in the traffic lanes with automobiles along totally dark roadways, is also an accident in the making.

The first idea that might make sense is "enforce the existing laws" - We started there too. The truth is that an entire gang of troublemakers could come trash your yard, "use the bathroom" in your flowers, and toss a dead fish on your car for asking them to leave - all at 1a.m. by the way - and as long as they are innocently holding poles when a police officer shows up, get away without even a ticket. How about the littering laws?

Did you know that in our 122-plus square mile city, we have a grand total of zero pedestrian littering citations in the last year? "Existing laws" haven't given our neighbors, or our police, the opportunity to do anything about the problems residents from the southwest and northwest are dealing with frequently. As the numbers of incidents have increased, so have the incidents of boldness and belligerence. From a safety standpoint, many vehicles have been left parked in the medians. Particularly in the northwest Cape neighborhoods where streetlights are non existent, this is a dangerous situation that could cause serious injury. Narrow bridges with no guardrails only add to the unsafe conditions fishermen place themselves and motorists into when they utilize these structures for fishing spots.

So, the "existing law" idea doesn't work out, and we are left needing new legal tools to bring peace back to the balance of fishing versus homeowner rights. What should these tools look like? Well, the State of Florida handles this by banning all fishing from all bridges located in the State right-of-way. To me, this solution goes too far, and, frankly, infringes on the peaceful enjoyment of responsible fishermen. Punta Gorda on the other hand had almost exactly the same issues, and found restricting fishing in problem areas the most fair approach. This, along with improving and opening up safe, user-friendly fishing spots in publicly accessible areas, is the core of what I am proposing for our solution in the City of Cape Coral.

I am suggesting this: Ban fishing and unsafe parking from the smallest possible number of city rights of way, where the highest number of these problems are happening, and actively open up public fishing areas with the right facilities for family friendly enjoyment of our beautiful, and bountiful, Cape Coral waters.

What about the future you ask? "If you can ban fishing from a small number of problem areas today, you could ban it everywhere tomorrow couldn't you?" The situation as it is today leaves the door wide open for problems ranging from injury lawsuits to much worse, and will need to be addressed in a realistic way as the city continues to grow. Passing the buck by rejecting Ordinance 10-12 today will only delay until we have a more serious situation down the road. If we resolve this now, respecting both fishermen and residents, we can lay the framework for future Councils to deal with it in this neighborly spirit on a case-by-case basis, instead of provoking a solution like the state's total ban.

Now let's think back to that part about new, better fishing spots! I am proposing we upgrade Serenia Vista Park and city owned land on western Tropicana Parkway - literally a short walk away from the proposed "banned" bridges - to offer fisherman of all interests improved shorelines, picnic tables, garbage cans, ample and safe parking and toilets to ensure their legitimate good time fishing is always part of our culture in Cape Coral. I suggest the city should also be looking for more opportunities to enhance the fishing experience throughout the community. Options include the lighted pedestrian underpasses proposed in the Burnt Store Road expansion or even possibly acquiring new designated preserve and prime fishing parks where the land is readily available.

My goal with this Ordinance has never been to ban fishing in Cape Coral, as I think we should all be able to agree would be a disservice to a great way to spend time in our city. Rather, we have a real need to protect the property rights of our residents, and cut down the negative interactions like those we've been seeing. These are also bridges that were never engineered to be "fishing spots," they have no guardrails and the narrow pedestrian area leaves the fisherman exposed to passing traffic. As I have mentioned, in the dark of night the potential for a tragic accident is greatly enhanced. By carefully choosing only the highest problem bridges now, as opposed to a blanket fishing ban like the state has chosen, we can protect fishermen's access to bridges that are not next to homes and have properly engineered safety devices. We can then focus our efforts to get those future additional fishing spots in place before the neighborhoods expand in Cape Coral's southwest and northwest areas.

If this issue affects you, I ask your input at Monday's meeting. Please let your City Council know what you think and help us resolve this issue together as partners in the quality of life and the future of Cape Coral.

- Councilmember Kevin McGrail represents District 6



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