MANATEE -- A Manatee County tourism official lashed out Thursday at the Bradenton City Council’s decision to move toward a ban of horses from the Palma Sola Causeway.
Anna Maria Island developer David Teitelbaum, who serves as vice president of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council, said the decision, linked to possible water contamination from horse manure, will impact tourism in the county.
“I’m extremely disappointed with this decision and hope the Council will reconsider,” Teitelbaum wrote in an email to Council members following their 4-1 vote to have their attorneys draw up a new ordinance banning horses from the causeway.
Teitelbaum, who manages three resorts on Anna Maria Island, including Tortuga, TradeWinds and Seaside Inn, says guests specifically ask about horse surfing, one activity involving horses that will be banned if the law is passed.
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“We know it has drawn a lot of tourism,” Teitelbaum said Thursday. “This is unique and unusual. When tourists go out, they come back raving about the fun they have had.”
Horse surfing, which was invented on Palma Sola Causeway in 2007 by Timothy Mattox of Great World Adventures of Lakewood Ranch, involves people trying to stand on the back of a horse while it walks in about four feet of water.
Mattox said Thursday that while it is true that horse surfing has drawn tourists from Germany, England, Holland, Japan, Canada and all over North America, just riding a horse on the beach is on the “bucket lists” of 20 percent of the clients he gets.
Mattox charges $120 per person for a one-hour session that starts out with a ride along the beach and ends up with surfing. His staff have given out 105 rides in the past two weeks and, last week, he logged $9,000 in sales, he said.
He said he is booked through 2012 and has had offers to move his business to other states, which he might now have to do.
“I think the city will find out a lot of people disagree with them on this,” Mattox said.
Riding horses at the causeway has a county history that goes back decades, Mattox said, indicating that there was once a commercial stable on Manatee Avenue and 75th Street West.
“One horse owner suggested to me that the city should think about selling daily permits to ride a horse on the causeway,” Mattox said. “I would certainly not mind that. They could then pay someone to clean the beach, although we do it ourselves.”
Mattox said he will try to set a meeting with the city attorney and city council members to try to persuade them to seek a different option.
He is convinced horse poop is not environmentally dangerous.
“It’s mostly grass,” Mattox said. “Yes, it does go in the water, but it is easily dissolved and I would think it is eaten up quickly by fish, birds and bacteria.”
Mattox operates on the north side of the causeway in the easternmost part, but says he often gets blamed for horse poop left on the southern side by other horse enthusiasts.
From February to June of this year, the water quality on the north side of the causeway was listed as good each month, said John Burns, a spokesman for the Manatee County Heath Department.
However, in that same period, the water quality for the south side of the causeway had three instances of moderate quality, Burns added.
“In those three instances, the fecal coliform bacterium was normal, but the enteroccus bacteria was elevated,” Burns said.
“We can’t really say where the bacteria is coming from, but our hypothesis is that it is coming from storm water runoff,” Burns added.
Statistical data provided by Tom Larkin, environmental manager for the health department, indicated there is a much larger list of diseases from dogs than horses.
“Generally speaking, there are more pathogens associated with dogs,” Larkin said. “Horses are herbivores and their food material is digested differently than a carnivore.”
Bradenton’s Lois Stannard applauded the council’s decision.
“I have for sometime had a concern over the business of horses on the causeway,” she wrote to Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey on Thursday. “I do not believe farm animals belong on the causeway and they do not clean up after the horses unload in the water. I am concerned about water quality and keeping our area where water sports are enjoyed clean and safe.”
David Ambut’s opinion was delivered to council members with a bit of humor.
“Great idea,” he wrote in an email. “But why stop there. You know those dolphins are pooping in the water, too, and the other fish. You should ban them all.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.