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Hundreds of illegal boat lift covers up in Pasco County canals

County hasn't cited any violators
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Posted at 12:11 PM, Apr 23, 2021

HUDSON, Fla. — Pasco County banned the installation of boat lift covers in 2010, saying they wanted to protect waterfront property owners’ views and prevent navigation hazards.

But the I-Team has learned that rule has not been enforced and hundreds of unpermitted covers have been installed.

Sherene and Barkley Brown bought a 30-foot boat named “Gone Gulfing” after moving into a Hudson canal-side home in 2014.

“It has a cabin. It has a bathroom. It’s got a kitchen,” Sherene Brown said.

She says her husband could easily navigate their channel until their neighbor installed a boat lift cover near the entrance to the channel, which Barkley hit last July while returning home from a day of boating.

“It was literally like a cannon went off”

“After sustaining over $25,000 in damage to our own vessel, we haven’t been able to leave our canal since July 10, 2020,” Sherene Brown said.

The Browns’ son and five grandchildren were on board when a metal pole used to hold fishing lines called an outrigger caught the corner of the neighbor’s cover.

“I see my son grabbing it, it’s ricocheting, flying and I’m like oh my God,” Sherene Brown said.

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“When that outrigger turned loose off the side of that boat, it was literally like a cannon went off,” said Barkley Brown.

Nobody was hurt, but Sherene complained to Pasco County Code Enforcement after discovering a county ordinance that reads “overhead coverings… are prohibited on docks, lifts, piling or similar structures built over the water."

“They’re absolutely not permitted by Pasco County’s ordinance,” she said.

“We’ve been doing as many as we can do”

Jeromy Gamble, who owns Coastline Boatlift Covers Nature Coast, disagrees with that assessment.

His company sold and arranged the installation of the cover on the Browns’ neighbor’s boat lift, as well as covers on dozens of other docks in their subdivision.

“Hudson and other areas of Pasco, we’ve been doing as many as we can do,” Gamble said, estimating his company has sold and installed about 200 boat lift covers in Pasco County.

Gamble says his lift cover didn’t cause the Browns’ accident.

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“They had lost control. Plowed into a floating dock, damaged it, then ran into our cover. It was like a car losing its brakes, running into a house and blaming the house,” Gamble said.

Gamble says attorneys have advised him that the current ordinance doesn’t apply to the covers his company installed because they aren’t permanent.

“Our product clamps on. It’s a temporary, removable structure. It does not alter the original permanent structure in any way and it doesn’t apply to the ordinance,” Gamble said.

“You’ve got a 17,000-pound boat under power pushing against it. If that was temporary, it should have gone over in the street. But it didn’t. It stayed right there… didn’t even bend it,” Barkley Brown said.

Gamble says his installers can take the covers down in a matter of minutes, which is recommended when sustained wind speeds reach more than 70 miles an hour.

Gamble says he’s been working with the county to modify the rules for coastal waterways after commissioners voted in 2019 to allow boat lift covers on inland lakes and rivers.

“These structures are not allowed”

A discussion of those proposed changes to the 2010 ordinance came up at a February Pasco County commission meeting.

During a discussion of potential changes to the ordinance, commissioners expressed surprise that the rules were not being enforced.

“These structures are not allowed,” Pasco County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said.

The proposed new law was never officially introduced, which would have required a public hearing.

Instead, county staff presented a general overview of potential changes which would explicitly allow boat covers.

Commissioners would also have to decide what to do with covers that were never permitted and are not in compliance with the current ordinance.

“You can’t take the position today about amnesty if you don’t know what the ordinance you are going to adopt is,” Steinsnyder said.

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“Currently, they’re prohibited. It’s not being enforced. It should be enforced, but it’s not being enforced,” Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore said.

“The ones that were built illegally were still built illegally. So the code should be enforced on those,” Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick said.

“I don’t know exactly what we should do about the ones put up illegally. They shouldn’t have been put up, number one,” Commissioner Ron Oakley said.

The board voted 4-to-1 not to consider changes in the existing ordinance at that meeting and commissioners instructed the county staff to begin identifying the location of structures not in compliance.

“They should be citing every roof in here, this one in particular. And they need to have them removed. They need to be brought down,” Barkley Brown said.

“We’re a country of laws. This is a law in Pasco County. If this means nothing, then why should we abide by any other ordinance?” Sherene Brown said.

Gamble says hundreds of un-permitted covered structures were built on Pasco County inland rivers and lakes during the nine years between when the ordinance was adopted and when it was amended to allow them.

He says if the county fines owners of boat lift covers who live in coastal areas, those who were non-compliant in other areas should also be fined.

If the county starts fining him or his customers based on a law he considers overly vague, Gamble says he’ll take legal action.

“We go to court. We’re waiting to get cited, plain and simple,” Gamble said.

A Pasco County spokesperson says code enforcement has not cited any boat lift cover owners since the February meeting.

She says the county is continuing to investigate the issue.

If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email us at adam@abcactionnews.com.