By Lois Swoboda
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is watching and waiting to see if Franklin County will enforce its turtle protection ordinance.
On Thursday, Aug. 15, USFW biologist Lisa Lehnhoff addressed about 20 St. George Islanders when the civic club met on the subject of sea turtles and lighting. All sea turtles are on the federal list of threatened species. Both adult turtles coming ashore to nest and hatchlings returning to the sea can be disoriented by artificial lights.
Lehnhoff told the group Franklin County passed the Panhandle’s first ordinance protecting sea turtles in 1997.
Over the last six months, the county received two letters from USFW warning that this ordinance is not being properly enforced. The second letter included a list of 140 residences with lighting that appears to be out of compliance with the county law.
Lehnhoff said USFW is now asking the sheriff’s office to enforce the county ordinance. If that doesn’t work, she said, USFW plans to enforce the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on St. George Island .
County law requires that both interior and exterior light be completely shielded so that neither the bulb nor its reflection can be seen by nesting sea turtles and hatchlings. The county is also supposed to see that lighting fixtures and window treatments are compliant for all construction that occurs seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line.
Violations of the county ordinance are punishable as misdemeanors with a fine of up to $500 a day and up to 60 days in the county jail. More....