Another disappointing rounds of bids


Another frustrating bid opening Tuesday was followed by tabling of bids for beach restoration pending a special meeting, likely to be called next week.

The county opened bids for the “re-bid” of the restoration project and once again found that the bids fell short of the county’s finish line.

Just two companies bid on what was termed a “reverse bid” of the original project, and neither arrived near the desired numbers.

The initial bidding for the beach restoration late last year ended with the Board of County Commissioners rejecting the bids, the lowest of which was some 40 percent over the county’s budget.

This time, the county put the dollar figure, $10.2 million, in front of contractors and asked how much sand it would purchase for placement on the beaches.

The focus with the re-bid shifted to the southern portion of the project’s original design, from the Stump Hole rock revetment to the southern end of Billy Joe Rish Park.

Under the original design, said consulting engineer Michael Dombrowski, the county had targeted placing roughly 800,000 cubic yards of new sand.

The higher of the two bids opened Tuesday was for 705,882 cubic yards; the lower bid was for just 340,000.

“I was disappointed by the low cubic-yardage,” said Dr. Pat Hardman, president of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County, while stressing the urgency of the situation.

“We’ve got to get some sand out there.”

County administrator Michael Hammond said staff needed time to examine the bids and secure a recommendation on proceeding from Dombrowski.

Another complicating factor, at least for the actual award of the contract, is receipt of the $2.8 million in RESTORE Act funds which represent the bulk of the county’s contribution to the project.

Due to the altering timeline, the county has had to rewrite and publicly notice plans to the spending of RESTORE funds.

In addition, the county, and project, lost some initial funding due to design changes and additional interest costs on the bonds from voter approved taxing units for a project the county thought would be completed nine months ago, Hammond said.

That has eaten in to the available funds, including a $1 million state appropriation, Hammond said, noting the $10.2 million budget does not include a cushion of several hundred thousand dollars.

“We want to move forward as soon as possible,” Hammond said.

He suggested a special meeting would likely be called within the week to provide a recommendation to the board.

Hardman said another factor to consider is exactly how far 700,000 cubic yards would go.

The decision to focus on the southern end, met with some controversy from those to the north who have been taxed for the restoration project, was based on the theory that existing currents would move sand placed to the south north.

That was the case with the initial beach restoration project of nearly a decade ago.

The county would address “hot spots’ to the north as needed by truck and sand from the county pit on the north end.


New law on beach access

County attorney Jeremy Novak provided an overview of a new state law which was passed earlier this year and takes effect this summer.

That law, Novak said, struck down a Walton County ordinance pertaining to public enjoyment of the beach and required that counties or cities wishing to approve “customary use” ordinances regarding coastal beaches must go through the courts.

That, Novak said, is a lengthy and costly process, though several Florida counties have done so.

In effect, the customary use doctrine, consistently upheld by courts, is rooted in the concept that the beaches belong to all.

Gulf County does not have such an ordinance, Novak said, but does have historic access laws, such as beach driving and Leave No Trace and an erosion control line by ordinance, which serve to facilitate public access to the beach while being sensitive to private property rights.

Novak said the county will continue to enforce those ordinances and if desired in the future could pursue a customary use ordinance.


County-wide voting

Resident Roland Wilson told commissioners their job was to oversee the county staff and business and to do the voters’ work.

Sometimes commissioners seemed to be doing just that. Other times, Wilson said, they seemed to be doing what they want.

He said it was time commissioners moved ahead on county-wide voting, which voters approved more than a decade ago only to have the referendum ignored by successive boards.

“You’ve kicked county-wide voting down the road for years,” Wilson said. “The voters urge you to move forward.

“You no longer have a valid excuse.”

Additionally, Wilson said the board has worked to exclude the public by holding meetings in the morning instead of the evening, which had been the case until several years ago.

“You are hired to represent the people, to do the wishes of the majority of the people, not what you want done,” Wilson said.