County curbs bid to increase beach access for dogs

Melbourne Beach residents Donna Post and Charlotte Hertz won’t be exercising their dogs on Brevard County beaches – not after county commissioners last week dismissed their request for access to the South Beaches shoreline.

“I’m definitely not going to pursue this again,” Post said. “I’m beat.”

She said she was tired of personal attacks on Facebook from those who don’t like dogs on the beach.

Post and Hertz said they would most likely take their golden retrievers, Tessie and Misty, to the Vero Beach Dog Park, an off-leash site for pooches along the Indian River Lagoon in Vero Beach.

Or perhaps, Hertz added, she might take her pooch to a dog park farther south in Jupiter.

Most of Brevard County’s own 72-mile-long shoreline is closed to dogs. And the two dog-friendly beach parks – a 700-foot section of Canova Beach Park near Indian Harbor Beach and a 12-block park in Cocoa Beach – are even farther from them than Vero Beach.

Commissioners on Aug. 6 considered – and dismissed, without taking a vote – Post’s request for dog access, before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m., to an 11-mile stretch of beach running from Sandy Shoes Resort to the Sebastian Inlet.

Much of the targeted shoreline, however, includes the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which spans 20.5 miles in Brevard and Indian River counties. Dogs aren’t allowed there because of their inclination to dig up sea turtle nests.

The refuge, established in 1991, is described by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as “ground zero” for loggerhead turtle nesting in North America.

However the commission might change its ordinances for dog access, the service would still not allow them on the beaches of the Carr Refuge, said Jeremy Edwardson, deputy project leader with the Everglades Headwaters Complex.

County Attorney Eden Bentley cautioned commissioners that the federal service could sue if they increased dog access and a dog killed turtle hatchlings.

Post’s husband, John Post, suggested a compromise that could allow dogs on the beach only when turtles aren’t nesting, as well as licenses to have dogs on the beach.

Since the matter didn’t require a public hearing, Chairwoman Kristine Isnardi invited her colleagues to give their opinions before members of the audience spoke.

“There’s no part of this that I like,” Isnardi said.

The Palm Bay Republican’s district includes the Indialantic area on the county’s barrier island. She said she mostly opposed dog access to the beaches because of health and safety concerns.

“We don’t have enough animal control officers for the many animal-control problems that aren’t even on the beach,” she added. “So there’s no way I’m going to support this.”

Vice Chair Bryan Lober said he could “get behind” a dog-access effort if the target area wasn’t so long.

“I love dogs,” he said. “And I have sea turtles on my (auto) license.”

Commissioner John Tobia, whose district includes the proposed 11-mile stretch of increased dog access, said his office received 122 calls or emails – with 112 from people opposed to more dog access.

“You’re in the 8 percent, not the 92 percent,” he told Melbourne Beach dog-access proponent Lisa Herendeen.

Following the meeting, Herendeen said she was less troubled by losing the commission’s support than by commissioners “coming with their minds made up” before the public spoke.

That might not have changed many minds, however. Most of the 11 speakers opposed increased dog access, citing danger to the turtles, with only a few supporting dog access.

“I’m totally opposed to any dogs on the beach,” Melbourne Beach resident James McGrath said. “In every piece of life, people with dogs are intent on injecting them into our life.”

While Donna Post submitted thousands of petition names for more dog access, few of those signers came to the meeting. Commissioners said Post and her allies might have had better luck if they had submitted their request through a commissioner instead of going straight to Parks and Recreation Director Mary Ellen Donner.

Herendeen said she hasn’t decided whether she would pursue the matter further, perhaps by going through the amenable Lober. But if she does, she said, she wants to organize a committee and get to know the members.

“We didn’t even know each other before this,” she said of Post and Hertz.

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