Outsiders ‘ruining it for everyone’ in Viking

OKEECHOBEE — A public hearing on the Coquina Road and Bridge District — which was established in 1972 but never activated — sparked a discussion about the problems in the area known as Viking or “The Prairie,” at the Thursday meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners.

The property owners said problems in the Viking area are primarily due to people who do not live there, but come out there to ride ATVs.

“It’s not the people who live out there who are causing the problems,” said John Apostola. “It’s the people who are coming in from all over.”

“People who come for the weekend — who don’t live out there — are the ones who are destroying the roads, shooting the guns,” he said.

He added that the “Be a Man, Buy Land” real estate ads add to the problems by promoting Viking as a place anyone can go and ride for free.

He said residents who also ride ATVs are being unfairly blamed for the problems caused by these outsiders.

Viking resident Nathaniel Worthington said some people are making false police reports about “shots fired” to get the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office to send a deputy to the area. He said there are social media posts encouraging people to do this.

“It’s even on Facebook advising people to keep calling,” he said.

He said those who live in the Viking area who like to ride their own ATVs with their children are coming under a lot of unfair scrutiny.

“It’s 1 percent of the people who are doing all of the complaining and even going so far as fabricating things that aren’t going on,” said Michael Vincent, another Viking property owner.

He said many Viking residents enjoy taking their children for ATV rides or using an ATV to visit the neighbors.

“Normal traffic tears these roads up a lot more than any of the ATVs,” he said.

“Most of the people who do not have respect for the roads are people who are coming in. They don’t live out there.

“They are ruining it for everyone,” he said.

Some Viking property owners suggested establishing a county substation to provide emergency services in the area. Others opposed the additional taxes that would be required.

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said much of the Viking Property is in District 1, which has been without a representative on the commission since the 2014 death of Commissioner Ray Domer.

“A small portion is in my district,” he continued. “I have fielded hundreds of phone calls.

“People were sold properties out there and I think there was some false pretenses that you could come out there and do anything they want,” he said.

He said he has had reports of RVs dumping black water into canals.

He has also had complaints about gunfire.

“I have had people tell me they have found bullet holes in their utility rooms,” he continued.

He said there are safety issues with small children riding four wheelers.

“It’s emotional on both sides of the equation,” he said.

“There are residents who live out there, that is their full-time residence, and they have to be considered.”

Nick Skarecki said he owns a lot on the Prairie but lives in Palm Beach County.

“My problems are from the people who are not landowners,” he said.

“I agree maybe a full-time police officer out there might be a good thing, but how do you get money for it,” he added.

He suggested the county develop a registration system for the lot owners.

He said it is hard for the residents to police those who have no respect for private property.

“I try to stop people when I see them in the road doing do-nuts in the swales,” he said. “But you have to be careful who you say things to.”

Commission Chairman Frank Irby said residents should address their law enforcement concerns to the sheriff. He said the item on the agenda would not change anything in Viking.

The item on the agenda was to dissolve a road and bridge district that was on the books but was never activated.

“This is not the Coquina Water Control District,” said county attorney John Cassels.

He said to his knowledge, the separate road and bridge district has never made special assessments or acquired property to build roads.

Over a period of years, the Coquina Water Control District began maintaining many of the trails and roads within the Viking area and has served as a de facto road and bridge district for the area under a theory that such maintenance supports its duties as a water control district, according to the staff report.

Florida statutes requires certain annual reporting to the state by all special districts, including the district, to remain an “active” special district. The district failed to do so and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity was notified by the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee of the Florida Legislature that the District had not complied with financial reporting requirements. Following public notice in the Okeechobee News, DEO declared the district inactive pursuant to section 189.062, Florida statutes.

Florida Statutes requires that the entity which created a special district declared to be inactive, dissolve that special district, the county attorney explained.

Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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