Coral Bay boaters were incensed Wednesday when Planning and Natural Resources enforcement officers swooped into the harbor and the village, cutting mooring lines, demanding identification from pedestrians and waving guns around.
“And they wanted to see registrations for cars,” said Coral Bay Marine owner Sandy Mohler.
Mohler said the officers threatened to shut down her business because she doesn’t have a copy of her current business license. However, she said she has a receipt that she’s paid for it but has been unable to get Licensing and Consumer Affairs to issue the license.
Will Hudson was walking toward the Coral Bay dinghy dock when he said a DPNR officer “accosted him” and demanded that he produce his identification. Hudson complied.
“But I didn’t like the Gestapo attitude of Planning,” he said.
Doug Bean, who owns Skinny Legs Bar and Restaurant in Coral Bay, had a similar story. He said the officers were telling people to come over to them and give them their identification. Bean had to go to work so he left his identification with the officer and came back later to get it.
According to Hudson, the officers took photographs of the people who were walking near the dinghy dock as well as their identification documents.
Hudson added that when they were “swinging their guns around,” one pointed a rifle at “little kids.”
Mohler said the officers boarded boats with guns.
Coral Bay residents called Sen. Craig Barshinger for help. After visiting Coral Bay, Barshinger said that about half the dinghies tied up at the dinghy dock had warning stickers on them. He said the issue seems to be the placement of registration stickers.
Barshinger said he was told by the boaters that since the stickers fall off rubber dinghies, DPNR had agreed to let the boaters place them on the boats’ transoms.
Barshinger said he had a report from one boater of the Planning officer trying to silence him by making a motion as if he was working a television remote. He had another report of the officers calling one boater “Rasta boy.”
The Coral Bay boaters were at a loss to understand why this happened on the day before DPNR has scheduled a meeting at the Westin Resort and Villas to discuss proposed new mooring fees. That meeting starts at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Roberto Tapia, DPNR enforcement director, said that Wednesday’s action was in response to a request boaters had made for help in getting rid of derelict boats on shore and in the mangroves as a result of various storms. Tapia said the action was not in conjunction with Thursday’s meeting.
“We can’t just do derelicts,” he said. “We have to do everything. We’re there because they asked for it.”
According to Mohler, boaters were told Planning had no money to help get rid of the abandoned boats.
As for stopping pedestrians and demanding identification, Planning spokesman Jamal Nielsen said those people were witnesses to an incident in which one boater refused to stop when Planning officers hailed him. Tapia said the boater headed to the dinghy dock.
Tapia said there is a law on the books that says everyone has to show identification when asked.
He said the officers did not draw their guns and, in the case of the rifle, the officer had it slung over his shoulder.
Mohler was also upset that mooring fees will increase when the government provides no services to boaters in Coral Bay.
Hudson said it appears the increased fees are targeted at liveaboard boaters.