Alcohol restrictions on tap for Crab Island

Tony Judnich

SHALIMAR — The Okaloosa County Commission's unanimous recent approval of an ordinance could lead to big changes at Crab Island.

The ordinance takes effect Nov. 1. Among other regulations, it prohibits the sale, distribution or consumption of alcoholic beverages on various commercial floating structures or vessels at Crab Island.

Houseboats used as private residences, pontoon boats that are rented for private use, and charter boats and sunset cruise vessels are among the types of watercraft that are exempted from the ordinance.

"Like our beaches ... Crab Island should be for everyone,” Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel said at Tuesday's commission meeting.

Families that want to go to the island and enjoy it with their children should not be exposed to indecent behavior, which alcohol encourages, Ketchel said.

At a recent workshop about Crab Island, she said residents had told her that they saw “stripper poles” set up at the submerged island.

In addition to the crackdown on booze, the new ordinance establishes the “Crab Island Entertainment Area” and will allow commercial floating structures to stay anchored there between dusk and dawn from March 1 to Oct. 31, 2019 as long as their owners meet various requirements.

Starting on Nov. 1, 2019, however, all commercial floating structures at the island will have to be stationed between dusk and dawn at a public or private marina or dock, within a permitted mooring field or on private property, including submerged lands.

The Sheriff’s Office will be asked to enforce the overall ordinance.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Crab Island businessman Sam Poppell suggested the county make the island a county park and provide long-term vending licenses to the island businesses.

But Ketchel said the the county doesn't have enough personnel for its existing parks, and doesn't need to make the island a park.

Besides approving the ordinance, the commission backed Commissioner Nathan Boyles’ request to have staff start the process of forming a committee to help monitor the eventual implementation of the ordinance.

Boyles said the committee will consider input from “stakeholders,” including the island vendors, and determine whether any adjustments should be made to the ordinance.