The Gulf County Board of Commissioners has begun the process of acquiring the Cape San Blas Lighthouse with an eye toward relocation to Salinas Park.
County administrator Don Butler said he had initiated the lengthy application process with Department of Interior to acquire the lighthouse, keepers’ quarters and oil house.
After Eglin Air Force Base declared the lighthouse and property surplus earlier this year, the Dept. of Interior was charged with disposition to an appropriate party for the purposes of creating a public park.
The lighthouse and land is in danger due to coastal erosion. The Air Force approached the city of Port St. Joe early this year about the city’s interest in the property.
County Commissioner Warren Yeager said a committee of residents of St. Joseph Peninsula and Cape San Blas was moving ahead on planning for relocation to Salinas Park.
“We have insurance numbers,” Yeager said. “What we’re still looking at is the exact number to move the lighthouse and place it as Salinas Park.”
Yeager said Butler had looked over the paperwork for Salinas Park and found the lighthouse appropriate for that location.
And, he added, he had been approached by an individual willing to make “a sizeable donation” to the effort to move the lighthouse to Salinas Park.
Yeager said he is caught in something of a dilemma. He has constituents on the cape that want the lighthouse to remain located on the cape and he has constituents within the city that want the lighthouse moved to the city to become part of a bayfront park.
“Our number one goal is to preserve it,” Yeager said. “I personally don’t have a preference, but I have constituents who have different opinions. These are the kind of decisions you have to make in this office.
“What I’ve suggested to (Port St. Joe Mayor Mel Magidson) is let’s have a public meeting. We need to have public input and try to reach a consensus.”
A discussion initiated by Butler concerning the possibility of hiring something of a “utility” employee to work across several offices became a debate about the direction of the consolidated Chamber of Commerce/Economic Development Council model commissioners created more than a year ago.
Butler said county staff was already overwhelmed and heading toward a significant problem with several key department heads – Joe Danford in Public Works, David Richardson with the Building and Planning Department and Butler – are within five years of retirement.
Commissioners need a succession plan in place for Danford, but additionally given staffing cuts over the past several years the workload on department heads was such that some assistance was needed.
Commissioner Bill Williams, however, wondered if the board should be looking at the Chamber/EDC before considering a new addition to staff.
Williams said he had learned that the Chamber board was proposing to divide duties and bring in a Chamber point person to free executive director Barry Sellers for EDC work solely and wondered how, on the $40,000 provided by the county and city of Port St. Joe that would work.
“To me the Chamber/EDC issue is unresolved,” Williams said. “The EDC is going to be a major issue” particularly if the county takes back the EDC under its umbrella.
“What are we doing with the EDC?” Williams said.
Commissioner Ward McDaniel said the board needed to be proactive on the manpower issues and needed to thoroughly workshop the issue for solutions.
“It is fine to look at utility players, but what are the priorities and where is the budget,” Williams said.
Sellers came to the podium to note that he had been promised twice the budget the county and city had funded, that staff has been lost at the Chamber/EDC and that progress is nonetheless being made.
“We are getting a lot of bang with very little buck,” Sellers said.
Commissioners approved spending just under $10,000 for engineering and design for a parking area north of the Stump Hole portion of State 30-E.
The parking area would have 100 spots and restrooms on three-quarters of an acre.
Creating the parking area is linked to the beach renourishment project, in which county funding was in part based on beach access.
By creating the 100-spot area, it would turn that area from a secondary beach access point to a primary access point per the renourishment provisions.