The Coastal Community Association of Gulf County held its annual meeting last Saturday at the St. Joseph Bay Golf Club.
Jonathan Hayes, Chief of Staff for U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, attended the meeting.
Hayes apologized for Southerland’s absence, saying that he was busy preparing for the upcoming election season.
Hayes used the opportunity to speak on the RESTORE Act, explaining that after three years, the U.S. Treasury officials are still deciding the rules in order to decide how much money each area is entitled to, post the BP oil spill in 2010. Money available through the act would make up for lost revenue in affected areas. Funds are expected to be available in late summer.
“Southerland is pushing them to make their decisions in a quick and efficient manner,” said Hayes.
Hayes also said that Southerland was fighting to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to respond to an appeal by the state to provide funding for sand replenishment on the Cape. An agreement had been reached before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department Services filed a complaint and the funding was retracted.
Hayes said that Southerland introduced legislation through the farm bill that could potentially re-designate funds for use in the infrastructure of rural counties. If passed, there may be a way to use the funds for beach nourishment purposes.
Homeowners on the Cape continue to struggle with flood insurance. In November 2002, FEMA designated Gulf County as a higher risk flood zone. Because of the Coastal Barrier Resources Act’s (CBRA) prohibition on federal flood insurance, these homeowners had purchased insurance through the private sector at a high rate. Many insurers have stopped offering insurance in these areas altogether.
Hayes said that a study and remapping of the area is currently being conducted by FEMA and the new areas, and thus an adjustment in fees should be reached by June 30, 2015 and implemented by Sept. 2016.
“It’s an election year, so things naturally slow down in Washington, D.C.,” said Hayes.
Cell phone service
CCA President Pat Hardman also asked Hayes for assistance with cell towers. Currently, cellphone service is unreliable on the Cape making it hard for fire and police departments to communicate when operating in the area.
Hardman said that Verizon had licensed space for a tower near Indian Pass, but had not yet constructed it; another spot had also been leased by American Towers near Station 2 of the South Gulf County Volunteer Fire Department but had also not yet been built. Hardman was told that demand in the area for cell service must be higher before the towers will be constructed.
Cape San Blas Lighthouse
Hardman told the audience that at 1:15 p.m. on Thursday, she had watched the top of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse drop below the trees as it was laid on its side in preparation for its move to George Core Park in Port St. Joe.
Many members of the CCA took part in fundraisers to relocate the lighthouse to Salinas Park in an effort to keep the structure on the Cape.
“We fought a good fight,” said Hardman. “It’s going, and there’s nothing we can do.”
The goal of the CCA is for South Gulf County to develop in harmony with the beautiful natural coastal environment and be supported by necessary services and amenities for the needs and convenience of its residential community.