Model Yacht Club, city staff continue contentious relationship

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle

One of Marco Island's premier event attractions could be in jeopardy if its Model Yacht Club and city staff do not repair their relationship soon.

From parking restrictions to Porta-Potty bans to locating a starter owl burrow near the launching area, members of the club have voiced concerns Monday with restrictions imposed by city staff that would make it nearly impossible to host the RC Laser Midwinter Championship, a major national tournament that has been held on Marco Island for the past 15 years.

"If we can't use parking, we won't be able to run this regatta," Regatta Chairman Rocky Cale said.

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Captains jockey for position before the start. The Marco Island Model Yacht Club held their annual Mid-Winter R/C Laser Championship Regatta this weekend at Mackle Park, attracting radio-controlled sailboats from all over the country.

Cale said the Midwinter Championship is one of three major regattas held in the country all year and attracts visitors from all over the country and abroad.

The relationship between the club and city staff has soured this year to the point that Cale was arrested for pulling weeds out of Mackle Park Lake after boats were getting caught up. While there were four members of the club pulling weeds, Cale was the only person city staff reported to Fish and Wildlife officers and had arrested. The weeds were also supposed to be sprayed and killed.

Last month, the relationship became more strained after the restrictions began popping up.

Rocky Cale, 75, poses outside of the community room at Marco Island City Hall on Monday, Aug. 20.

A starter owl burrow, which does not have any owls in it, was located near the Tiki Hut at Mackle Park. Club member Terry Naylon told the City Council that the club asked the city to relocate the burrow, but its request was denied by city staff despite members of Owl Watch stating they could work with the city to relocate the nest. 

Parking was also disallowed on the grass, which club members said was necessary because it had several elderly people that couldn't walk long distances and needed to be closer to move boating equipment. 

Naylon said that the city's restrictions could also lead to the club losing members because they won't be able to participate in using their boats at the lake.

For the past 15 years, the city had no issue with the event parking on the grass or having Porta Potties.

Cale continually called the actions of city "ridiculous" as questions of whether city staff had a vendetta against him surfaced again.

Some of the amenities at Mackle Park were also the direct result of Cale working with previous staff members. After a few people took a tumble into the lake several years ago, Cale said that former Director of Community Affairs Brian Milk agreed to have improvements built if the regatta tournament remained a permanent fixture.

Director of Community Affairs Dan Smith responded to a few of the complaints on Monday.

“Staff has taken the stance that they don’t want Porta-Potties on the premises because it causes an environmental issue,” Smith said. "... They're just not used to walking and that's really what the issue is."

Acting City Manager Guillermo Polanco told the City Council that the club had not approached him about the issues but was quickly rebuked because he was forwarded some of the same communications that the Council received about the problems weeks ago.

Councilor Howard Reed said the city staff's explanations sounded like "lame excuses."

After stating that he believed city staff was destroying the club's programs, Councilor Larry Honig warned them that they did not want him going to newly selected City Manager David Harden to fix the problem.

One after another, city councilors implored staff to be more proactive and work out the issues.

“The city of Marco Island loses if we’re chasing away people that have been here for years,” Councilor Victor Rios said.

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