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Commissioners move to prohibit unauthorized camping on county property

After local law enforcement reported having run-ins with unauthorized campers in county parks, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to adopt an emergency ordinance banning the parking of recreational vehicles on county property overnight.

The motion was made by Commissioner Phillip McCroan at the board’s Feb. 28 meeting and seconded by Commissioner Patrick Farrell.

The ban, which will take effect immediately, specifically lists recreational vehicles, travel trailers, camper trailers, campers, motorhomes, private homes, private motorcoaches, conversion vans, tractor trailers or semi trailers and vehicles primarily designed for temporary living quarters as being among vehicles impacted by the ordinance.

“It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, corporation or other entity to park their vehicle, recreation vehicle or otherwise to overnight camp or for transient occupancy or to temporarily reside, for recreation or otherwise, in Gulf county parks or right of ways,” reads the drafted ordinance as read by County Attorney Jeremy Novak.

The commissioners amended the ordinance to apply to all county property, including parking lots at county buildings, before passing the ordinance.

There are exceptions to the ordinance, as were pointed out by County Administrator Michael Hammond.

“The county will post where you can and where you can’t,” he told the commissioners.  “Boat ramps, of course, you can park overnight, but you can’t camp or set up camping. You can (camp) at the Dead lLakes, because we’ve leased it out, and you can, eventually, at Howard Creek because again, we’ve leased it out.”

“This is to prohibit the abuse, and it’ll be our discretion and law enforcement’s discretion on how it’s enforced.”

Overnight camping in local parks has been a growing problem, according to county commissioners, who voiced recent incidents during the meeting.

“We had eight of them at Salinas (Park) a weekend or two ago,” said McCroan.

“It’s also happened at Howard Creek, and we had one of them at Veterans (Park),” added Farrell.

By passing the ordinance, county commissioners hope to provide law enforcement officers with enough teeth to enforce the ruling.

Among penalties for violating the emergency ordinance, a fine of up to $500 for the first offense and a misdemeanor charge for any subsequent offenses were listed.

There will be a formal hearing for the new ordinance at the county’s March meeting.