BRADENTON -- Claude Tankersley described himself as “being prudent and responsible” in asking his five bosses on the City Council to rescind their decision to ban horse surfing on the Palma Sola Causeway.
Councilma Gene Gallo chose another phrase Wednesday to describe the surprise maneuver from the city’s public works director: “totally not appropriate.”
“This was not really the thing to do,” Gallo told Tankersley before refusing to rescind the motion to ban horse surfing, which was approved 4-1 by the council in June. “You described this as putting yourself in the ‘hot seat.’ That’s putting it mildly.”
Councilman Harold Byrd also expressed frustration at Tankersley’s unexpected request. “When did you come to these opinions?” he asked. “Why didn’t you come to us, or at least put it on the agenda?”
Tankersley waited until the end of Wednesday’s city council meeting to make his request, confessing to council members that he felt partially responsible for their earlier decision to ban horse surfing and wanted to provide them with more sound information than he had before. He emphasized to the council that Palma Sola does not actually have seagrass that could be damaged by horses wading in the water.
“Science and common sense both do not support the unfettered use of horses on the causeway,” he said. “But science and common sense also do not support a ban on horses on the causeway.”
The council had taken up the issue in response to complaints from citizens concerned about whether horse surfing -- riding horses as they wade through the water -- is a hazard to the environment, water quality or public safety.
Three weeks ago, Tankersley said, he began taking daily water samples along the causeway to better determine whether the horse’s fecal matter was impacting the water. He said the samples showed that fecal chloroform was “almost undetectable” in all of the tests, except for two samples that he attributed to “erroneous spikes.”
“I believe the appropriate thing to do is not to pursue an order to ban the horses,” Tankersley said. Instead, he said, the council should “direct the staff to work with landowners and all parties to bring our recommendation.”
Councilman Bemis Smith, the sole member to vote against the ban, reiterated his position but clarified that he was not allowed to make a motion to rescind the ban because he was not on the prevailing side of the vote.
Councilman Patrick Roff said his main reason for supporting the ban is to protect the public’s safety. He recently witnessed a three-car accident that also injured a horse and a pedestrian -- illustrating, he noted, why the ban is needed.
Despite the intense discussion, the council took no action and will await City Attorney Bill Lisch’s report on moving forward with the horse surfing ban.