The second time was no more of a charm than the first for the Board of County Commissioners.
Commissioner Warren Yeager reported during Tuesday’s regular bi-monthly meeting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had turned down, for the second time, an appeal for reimbursement for sand loss on St. Joseph Peninsula and Indian Pass due to Hurricane Gustav.
Gustav came ashore in Northwest Florida in 2008 and caused an estimated $15 million in damages to beaches which had just been nourished in a $21 million project.
The estimate was that nearly two-thirds of that sand was lost.
The BOCC has been seeking reimbursement for the lost sand for five years but has run into a wall with FEMA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over species habitat concerns.
“The solution is to get Cape San Blas and Indian Pass out of CBRA,” Yeager said, referring to the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, which limits the expenditure of federal funds in areas considered sensitive coastline.
The CBRA designation restricts property owners’ ability to secure reasonably-priced federal flood insurance among other impacts.
Congressman Steve Southerland (R-Panama City) has filed a bill in Congress to take Gulf County out of the CBRA designation.
Southerland’s bill, a hearing for which was slowed by the recent government shutdown, is similar to unsuccessful attempts made by Southerland’s predecessor, Allen Boyd.
Boyd’s bills never made it beyond committee.
The argument made by county officials and Southerland is that Gulf County should not be in a CBRA area.
When the act was passed in the early 1980s, there was already infrastructure and development in place on the peninsula and Indian Pass.
The claim is one the BOCC has made on prior occasions, but Yeager said county staff has dug up enough information and documentation to argue Gulf County should never have been put in a CBRA zone.
“We have the documentation to prove we were put in wrongly, it was illegal,” Yeager said.
He suggested that if Southerland’s bill went nowhere and the BOCC could not find relief from the federal government, litigation could be required.
“We will continue to fight for the people on the Cape,” said Commissioner Ward McDaniel.
Beach driving fees
Commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance which codifies in county law new beach driving permit fees.
Under the new fee structure which has been in place since Oct. 1 after being approved during the budget process, county residents and property owners can purchase an annual beach driving pass for $30.
The fee for non-county residents for an annual pass is $200.
A seven-day permit for non-county residents is $50 and seniors will only have to pay an administrative fee of $3 to receive a permit.
A replacement decal will now cost $20.
“We’ve done a lot to protect the natural resources here,” Yeager said. “We want the resource to be enjoyed by the public.”
Responding to a request from a resident of Overstreet, commissioners agreed to spend no more than $2,000 to address drainage ditch problems along one road in the community.
The project will be a test project after commissioners, acknowledging there are similar drainage issues throughout the county, said they did not want to set a precedent or violate county policy that says the BOCC will not approve the replacement of culverts at county expense.
U.S. 98 and 30A
Pat Hardman, representing the Coastal Community Association, asked commissioners to lobby the Florida Department of Transportation concerning the design plans for work at the intersection of U.S. 98 and County 30A.
“They are taking a functional situation and making it a dysfunctional situation,” Hardman said. “They are quite honestly screwing it up.”
In particular, Hardman said the design will eliminate one of the access points and one egress point, making evacuation in a storm incident or traffic during the summer all but intolerable.
The change in design, she suggested, will also send more tourists from the Cape to Franklin County instead of Gulf County due to the easier travel and said the design plans indicate the veer-off from U.S. 98 to 30A will be eliminated.
She added that the proposed plan to make the speed limit 45 mph along the newly-redesigned roadway was unworkable, too high for an area such as Simmons Bayou and too low for less populated sections of the road.
Yeager said some of the issue had been brought up during the design phase but he would reach out to FDOT.