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PUNTA GORDA: Dinghy docks will stay at Gilchrist Park, additional regulations could be coming

Punta Gorda's City Council considered removing the dinghy docks from the park
Posted at 8:42 PM, Jun 06, 2024

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — The Punta Gorda City Council has decided to keep the dinghy dock in Gilchrist Park, but say additional fees or rules to use the dock could be coming.

Discussions about removing the dinghy dock at Wednesday's council meeting focused on an increase in police calls to the area and how the city could manage who is using the dock.

According to Punta Gorda Police Chief Pam Smith, PGPD increased patrols in the area and found some boaters had minor violations like not having a throwable. She said officers also responded to a call in April when a motor scooter was set on fire and another instance where tires were slashed.

Chief Smith said that she believes the boaters that were the root of the problems have since sailed away. Smith also noted that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has been helping police the area and has given several warnings to boaters for registration violations.

The City Council discussed several ways to enhance how they can control who is using the dock including putting up a fence, having all boaters register a permit with the city, and charging for boaters who have vehicles parked in the parking lot overnight. The council agreed to further discuss those options at a later meeting.

District 1 councilmember Donna Peterman said the boaters should be paying to use the city’s dock and parking lot.

“I don’t see any reason why we should just be the welcome mat without having any economic price to avail yourselves with our benefits,” said Peterman. “I don’t know why we’re a free lunch in that regard.”

Chief Pam Smith
Punta Gorda Police Chief Pam Smith speaks to city council members at Wednesday's meeting.

Michael Brattain, who has lived on his boat anchored in the harbor since 2023, said the dinghy dock is the only way he and others anchored in the harbor can get ashore.

“There's a lot of good people out on the water that use this dock every day,” said Brattain. “If they took the dock out, I would have to move my boat, which means I would have to get a new job and start over again.”

Brattain told Fox 4 that many of the complaints about ‘liveaboards’ come from not understanding their alternative lifestyle.

“We’re looked at like transients or something, and it's not that way at all,” said Brattain. “It's about enjoying our lives and this is how we choose to live. It's a great life.”

Brattain and Trixie
Michael Brattain and his dog Trixie take their dinghy back to their boat from the dinghy dock at Gilchrist Park.

Brattain also noted that the rules of anchoring off Gilchrist Park are unclear, and said there is an overnight permit for dinghies to stay at the dock overnight which he said almost nobody in the boating community knew about. He said he has since purchased the permit.

‘It would be nice if there was information that we could get so we could be in compliance before we realize we’re out of compliance,” said Brattain. “After I bought my boat I went to the Coast Guard and they gave me all kinds of literature about how I can be in compliance. Nobody has ever done that with the dinghy dock until they come out with the ticket book. It's frustrating, very frustrating.”

Randall Listrom, a former Lieutenant with the Wichita Kansas Police Department lives on his boat in the harbor. He told Fox 4 that during his nearly three-decade career on the force he has led community policing initiatives and has offered to help find solutions to issues surrounding the dinghy dock.

“The sign of a healthy community is one that can address community problems on their own, from crime, safety and substance abuse issues,” said Listrom. “Police are not the answer to the crime problem, you can’t legislate your way out of these problems and you can’t police your way out of these problems. What does work is building collaborative efforts. It's a matter of getting the neighbors together and bringing in all the stakeholders, the police, FWC, the Coast Guard, the boating community. Let's air those differences out and let's build collaborative efforts to solve whatever issues are going on."

Randall Listrom speaks with Fox 4's Charlotte County Community Correspondent Alex Orenczuk at the dinghy dock in Gilchrist Park.