OKEECHOBEE — At their Oct. 22 meeting, the Okeechobee Board of County Commissioners heard from a local resident about plans discussed at their Oct. 8 meeting regarding Lock 7, otherwise known as the Clif Betts Jr. Lakeside Recreation Area.
At the Oct. 8 meeting, commissioners received word that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had agreed to the requested amendment to the easement for a conceptual plan to develop the location and expand public recreational facilities.
The issue of how to protect the property from vandals destroying it was raised at the meeting as well. In the beginning of October, security cameras captured several young men who sprayed painted graffiti inside the Lock 7 men’s room.
Graffiti is just one of the problems the area faces.
“They sit out there and they drink all night long,” said Okeechobee County Capital Projects Director Donnie Oden. “They throw their bottles and break them in the parking lot. There is glass all over there. It’s just an accident waiting to happen. Every time we turn around, there are skid marks all over the parking lot. This place was put together for people to enjoy, not for people to vandalize.”
In addition to higher quality cameras, one solution mentioned was having the gates closed at night.
“If we close that at a reasonable time, the less time people would have to go down there and destroy things,” said Commissioner David Hazellief.
Okeechobee resident Cliff Fuller spoke to the board during the public comment section of the Oct. 22 meeting. And while he was thrilled with the proposed improvements to Lock 7 and the work the county staff does to keep the location in shape, he asked board members to close access to the location only as a last resort.
“At first glance I was pleased to see the improvements,” said Fuller, referencing the article in the Lake Okeechobee News. “I was also pleased to see that the protection of those facilities would be a priority as stated by several of you. I’ve seen the vandalism and graffiti and I’ve been embarrassed by it. People can’t park their cars because of glass — obviously you’re aware of it. I’m excited that we’re addressing it.
“Imagine my dismay in learning that the solution so far to this problem was to lock down access to Lock 7,” continued Fuller. “I know nothing has been decided yet, but these are public facilities. I gathered that public access would be closed sometime at night. Locking out the public would be a knee-jerk reaction by the board. Locking out the public, unless it’s a case of an emergency, should be a last resort.”
Fuller argued that the lockout would affect many people who use the area for a wide variety of occasions. Hikers, fishermen, gator hunters, bikers, wildlife watchers, photographers and more were listed as people he has ran into during his time at Lock 7. Those people, who took no part in the vandalism, don’t deserve to be negatively affected by the actions of a few criminals, Fuller said.
“It’s a widely used area at all hours of the day and night,” Fuller explained. “Every person I talked with agreed that the persons responsible (for the vandalism) need to be found and held accountable. I just hate to see a total lockdown. But I’m a realist. If it needs to be done, it needs to be done.”