Okeechobee County wants to stop Lock 7 vandalism

OKEECHOBEE — Vandalism continues to be a problem at the Clif Betts Jr. Lakeside Recreation Area (commonly known as “Lock 7”).

Okeechobee County wants to stop Lock 7 vandalism which seems to be happening in the wee hours of the morning. Is a closed gate the answer?

At the Nov. 20 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission, county administrator Robbie Chartier said vandals have pulled down security cameras, left “burnout” patches on the asphalt and broken things.

“Maybe it’s time to hire someone to stay down there as security,” she said.

Closing the park at night brings complaints from the fishermen, she explained.

Mrs. Chartier said most of the vandalism occurs between midnight and 2 a.m.

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said the vandals leave a lookout with a cell phone to alert them if law enforcement is coming. The deputies cannot make arrests if they don’t see the vandals in action.

“When the gate was closed, it stopped them,” said Commissioner David Hazellief. “What is a security guard going to do?” he asked.

Commissioner Kelly Owens said a security guard could at least gather information such as license tag numbers and call law enforcement.

“I don’t have a problem locking it down,” said Mrs. Chartier. She said some areas around the lake are open “dawn to dusk’ and closed at night.

Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said the issue in the past has been who will lock and unlock the gates.

He said when that task was given to the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, deputies might lock the gate, but be on a call and unavailable to come back and unlock it at the designated time. Fishermen want it open at 4 a.m., he added.

Commissioner Brad Goodbread suggested the county consider using an automatic time lock powered by a battery that would be recharged by a solar panel.

“We need to get one that can’t be vandalized,” interjected Commissioner Owens.

Commissioners agreed to investigate the options for a gate that could be closed from 11 p.m. or midnight to 4 a.m.

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