On June 16 the Lee County Health Department sent the university a letter regarding the violation, but conversations between the two parties began months before.
“Sometime in late 2010 we noted the existence of the beach,” said Diane Holm, public information officer for the health department. “(University officials) were confused as to why they would have to have the permit.”
While FGCU only allows students to use the beach for swimming, the site is still considered public according to Florida statutes, Holm said. Those laws say public or private designations for such properties depend on the number of households and people using them.
Once the health department officials determined FGCU did require a permit, they issued a formal letter. The beach front remained open for swimming one more week, closing only after Johnson drowned.
Still, Holm said having a permit would not have prevented the student’s death.
“The drowning occurred when the facility was closed. There was appropriate signage that showed hours of operations for the lake,” she said. “The students were in violation when they chose to use it then.”
Holm said that FGCU was already going above and beyond health department safety requirements by having a life guard on duty during its hours of operation.
FGCU spokeswoman Susan Evans said the university has operated its beach as a swimming area since the university opened in 1997, unaware of the need for a permit.
“Out of the blue we learned we were supposed to have a public bathing permit,” she said.
The university has since applied for and been granted a construction permit, allowing for the building of new facilities along the beach and to meet health department codes. Holm said the main requirement FGCU needs to meet is the building of public restrooms on site.
The health department will conduct a final inspection before the beach front is scheduled to reopen in January. If it passes, the university will receive an annual operating permit for its swimming and bathing area for the first time.
FGCU already has a permit to operate its public pool in the on-campus aquatics center, which opened in 2004. Evans said the pool was built with county money after the university was chosen to house the facility, which is open to all Lee County residents.
It was during a routine inspection of the campus pool that health department officials noticed students swimming at the lake, Holm said.
The health department conducts routine testing for water quality at area beaches, but Holm said FGCU’s beach is not one that will be tested regularly. It will be tested for final approval of an its annual operating permit when beachfront construction concludes in January.