A beach restoration project is a short-term answer to erosion on St. Joseph Peninsula.



A beach restoration project is a short-term answer to erosion on St. Joseph Peninsula.

The county’s pursuit of a longer-term solution, overturning the inclusion of hundreds of acres in the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), is building steam in Washington, D.C.

During Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, Michael Stazzella said that the work of his firm, Buchanan Ingersol, was making positive strides in the effort to address CBRA in Gulf County.

“We have made very good progress over the last two or three months,” he said. “We have made appropriate progress.”

The lobbying effort, and for now that is all it is, is seen by county officials as the last gasp in an effort for an administrative solution to CBRA.

The BOCC approved in April spending $37,500 through the end of September on the effort, with the fallback solution, county attorney Jeremy Novak said over the weekend, charting a course for a legal challenge.

Stazzella noted the changes in the nation’s capital in recent months, from a new presidential administration to Gulf County’s new congressman.

The CBRA issue is under the oversight of the House Natural Resources, which Stazzella said had been pointing a finger at U.S. Fish and Wildlife as the culprit, with wildlife service pointing to the committee.

And, he added, his firm understood both the compressed timeline and budget with which the county was working in order to find a solution.

The House committee leaders, he added, appeared “open to the idea” of examining the CBRA boundaries in Gulf County.

“Our focus is to get CBRA lifted so the (federal government) will take care of the beach,” said County Commissioner Phil McCroan during last weekend’s meeting of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County.

“That’s the bigger issue. We want to focus on that.”

The county has argued, for three decades, that more than 900 coastal acres along Indian Pass, Cape San Blas and St. Joseph Peninsula were wrongly placed within a CBRA zone.

The county’s argument, based on surveys and mapping from the early 1980s when CBRA was put in place, is that sufficient infrastructure was already in place which should have precluded inclusion in an act aimed at protecting undeveloped coastal lands.

The issue has long been a problem in securing federally-backed flood insurance, but the tipping point for the county, which had sought a solution through Congress on multiple occasions with multiple congressmen, came in 2008 and Hurricane Gustav.

That storm and its impacts arrived just after a beach restoration project was completed and took an estimated $15 million worth of sand from the peninsula beaches.

Initially, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agreed to reimburse the county to replace the sand, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife intervened and overruled the decision based on the county’s inclusion in a CBRA zone.

CBRA zones are established to modulate development by constraining the administration of federal funds within CBRA boundaries.

Commissioner Freddie Whitfield continued to express skepticism the “review of a review” would work when all prior attempts had failed.

“We’ve been moving in the right direction for a number of years,” Whitfield said.

McCroan argued that the county is “further down the road than we were a few years ago.”

Stazzella said his firm should soon know whether or not the lobbying effort will bear fruit, and whether another path, legal or otherwise, should be considered.

The proof of efficacy is the result.

“You don’t have success unless you get it resolved,” Stazzella said.

Road debris

Whitfield, continuing a push of several months, recommended the BOCC consider a line item in the coming budget to address road debris pick-up.

County administrator Don Butler provided commissioners cost and tonnage estimates should the county undertake a sweep of road debris throughout the county once a quarter.

County workers would need five days to complete a sweep of the entire county and it would cost just under $50,000 a quarter, or roughly $195,000 a year.

“I’d like to see this done,” Whitfield said, providing one suggestion for paying for the service.

That would be rolling in the costs to the budget if, with Triumph funds earmarked for the county, the BOCC would provide property tax relief.

“We need to do something,” Whitfield said. “Debris is piling up in people’s yards, in ditches.”

No formal motion was made and commissioners agreed to look at the numbers provided by Butler and return next month with suggestions on addressing road debris.

The county has no road debris pick-up and the BOCC removed that service from its contract with Waste Pro in order to lower the costs of bills when the company took over waste management in the county.

Five Points Landfill

Five Points Landfill has been officially closed by state officials, a “landmark” day for the county, said Mark Cothran of Public Works.

The entrance road to the Waste Pro transfer station should be completed by the end of the week. Cothran said.

Five Points was costing the county hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.