SANTA ROSA BEACH — As most visitors to the area head to the beach on arrival, many do not know there is a venture by the name of 30A Airboat Adventures operating on Choctawhatchee Bay.
However, some people who live on the bay for its quiet and serenity are upset the business operates there.
Longtime resident Mark Breaux presented a petition to Walton County commissioners on Tuesday with signatures of more than 150 people who live or own property on the bay who are against the operation.
The commercial airboat launches from the east end of the Clyde B. Wells Bridge.
Breaux said the boat violates the county’s noise ordinance and seriously affects wildlife in the bay.
“The eagles are gone and the redwing blackbirds are not nesting there anymore,” Breaux said. “More than one fisherman has been fishing in the bay and the airboat comes by and then — no fish. This is being billed as ecotourism, but it is not. In the petition we request a ban on commercial airboat operations.”
However, County Attorney Sidney Noyes told commissioners that the state Legislature has pre-empted a blanket ban on such operations in a specific area.
“We might can control days and hours of operations, though,” she said. “I can research. But any order adopted would require a super majority vote of commissioners.”
District 3 Commissioner Melanie Nipper noted that if the airboat operation violates county codes, commissioners could address that.
The tours run roughly every two hours.
Breaux said the noise ordinance states that if you’re in your house with the doors and windows closed and it is still disturbing your peace, it’s a nuisance and a violation.
However, Noyes said an enforcement officer would have to actually hear the noise.
30A Airboat Adventures begins operations at 8 a.m. and continues until dark seven days a week, but last year the boat began running at sunrise, Breaux said.
The operation’s owner, Daniel McCurdy, told commissioners that allegations made in the petition are not true and said he has modified the boat to make it quieter.
“It is an environmentally friendly vehicle on the water. There is one argument and that is the noise, but it is not illegal. I am not breaking the law,” he said.
District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson said that the county needs to find out what rights it has.
“I suggest you try to work with these (residents) and find a way to please them,” Anderson told McCurdy. “When I see people sitting on an airboat and wearing headphones that tells me there is a noise problem.”
“Just like on a tractor,” McCurdy retorted.
Anderson asked Noyes to find out what the county can do and suggested that everyone involved try to reach a compromise.
District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman also asked Noyes to find out the county’s approved locations for launching boats, approved hours of operations and rules for use of a commercial boat ramp. Chapman also told Noyes to ask state and environmental officials if there is a violation due to the airboat going through grassy areas in the bay.
Noyes said she would do the research and bring back what she finds to commissioners.
Commission Chairwoman Cecilia Jones asked McCurdy and Breaux to see if there is any common ground.
Breaux said they have already done that to no avail.