Authorities say they will try to balance more enforcement with letting people enjoy the popular party island.
By JON WILSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 3, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Shell Key for years has been a popular gathering place for boaters, anglers, picnickers and -- sometimes -- very carefree partiers.
For the most part, those activities will continue under the island's new county management plan.
"Public use of Shell Key is very important to us," said Craig Huegel, the county's environmental lands division manager.
But he made it clear there are going to be limits on just how much fun the law allows.
During 2001, people are likely to begin noticing more law enforcement officers near the 180-acre island. The boomerang-shaped key is situated south of Pass-a-Grille and west of the Pinellas Bayway.
County officials are updating their agreement with the Sheriff's Office "to provide a little more security," Huegel said.
Boat-riding deputies are available now when needed to answer calls on Shell Key.
"It's inside our barrier. If there's a problem, we take care of it," said sheriff's spokesman Cal Dennie.
The island's managers want deputies to have more consistent visibility, although that is not likely to happen immediately.
"People are not going to notice on Jan. 2, for example, that there's a police force out there," Huegel said. "Our intent is to enforce parts of the (law) that need to be enforced, instead of someone calling (police) and saying there's a horrible thing going on.
"But we do need a presence there. It will be coming down the line, and I can't say when."
Part of the idea is to cut down on activity that might discourage family outings.
"We don't intend to be a big brother, and we don't intend to be mean and nasty and keep people from enjoying (the key)," Huegel said.
So, what illegal or disruptive activities take place?
"All spectrums across the board," Huegel said. "Some of that stuff not allowed under any kind of law is going to get shut down."
The key's management recommendations, which county commissioners approved nine months ago, ban alcohol use on the island, prohibit dogs on parts of the island where birds nest, limit the places where overnight campers can stay and ban powerboats from sea grass areas that fringe some of the preserve.
The state approved the plan a few weeks ago, Huegel said, giving official blessing to Shell Key Preserve.