Article Courtesy of The
By John Chambliss
Published June 5, 2018
LAKELAND — After four years of wrangling in and out of the courts, a homeowners
association has dropped its case against an airboat company over whether it can
conduct tours on Lake Hamilton. “I’m glad it’s over with,” said Bonnie
Neidlinger, co-owner of Captain Fred’s Airboat Nature Tours.
“We try to be good neighbors.” The Lake
Hamilton Lakeshore Owners Association dropped its appeal in
June, seven months after Circuit Judge Steven Selph ruled in
a summary judgement that the homeowners association lacked
standing to bring the action against the company, adding
that the “facts did not demonstrate a nuisance.”
Before the ruling, Tom Saunders, the lawyer for Captain
Fred’s, argued before Selph that the homeowners association
had no standing to bring a common law nuisance claim “in the
name of a company formed for the purpose of bringing” this
“Defendant is the only commercial airboat
company operating on Lake Hamilton and Plaintiff targets
this one operation even though Plaintiff admits recreational
airboats are just as noisy,” Saunders wrote.
It was the second time the homeowners association had appealed a ruling. In
2015, the Lakeland-based 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned a 2014
decision by Circuit Judge John Radabaugh. Radabaugh ruled that he didn’t
intend to interfere with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission’s authority. He wrote that the airboats cannot be a nuisance
because they were authorized by law.
But a three-judge panel on the appeals court disagreed in 2015. Appellate
Judge Daryl Casaneuva wrote that there can still be a nuisance despite the
fact it is legal to operate the airboats.
The homeowners association continued to move forward with its nuisance
complaint after the ruling, but Doug Lockwood, a lawyer for the homeowners,
said Captain Fred’s became more cognizant of the complaints.
“Primarily, it was not as big of an issue as previously,” Lockwood said.
“They’ve been a better neighbor.”
Lake Region Audobon became involved in the conflict when some of the
neighbors complained about an airboat coming too close to an eagle’s nest.
The eagle’s habitat was disrupted when the boat sped away after people
viewed the nest from a close distance, said Reinier Munguia, president of
Lake Region Audubon.
That nest is now gone, but a new one has been built close to the previous
one, he said.
Located on Crump Road, Captain Fred’s Airboat Nature Tours has been on Lake
Hamilton for eight years. Before moving to Lake Hamilton, the company was
located on Lake Rosalie east of Lake Wales. The company left after the owner
sold the property it leased.
Neidlinger said she hopes residents will come to them with any issues they
may have in the future.
“We feel like a lot of people enjoy our boats,” she said.