Acknowledging the difficulties in enforcing the ordinances as written, the Board of County Commissioners moved Tuesday to pull back on ordinances pertaining to Leave No Trace and RVs.
In the case of the RV ordinance, which the current board expressed an interest in revisiting in recent months, commissioners seemed poised to follow a staff recommendation to strike it outright.
As for Leave No Trace, commissioners will hold a workshop prior to the next regular meeting.
Following that workshop, allowing those who wish to offer input on the issue, staff will present a proposed amended version during the ensuing regular meeting.
“We’ve got to have common sense to come up with a resolution to (LNT),” said Commissioner Phil McCroan. “We’ve got to have some common sense on what we are doing on the beach.
“We have to have control and we have to have common sense.”
The current Leave No Trace ordinance, as noted repeatedly on Tuesday, was a slog to the finish line, taking five or six years from idea to an ordinance that could garner a majority of board votes.
Commissioners at the time wrestled with the enforcement provisions, the area of beach involved, to hours and circumstance under which items would remain on the beaches and tagging items for removal.
Frustrated with finding consensus on the details, commissioners took a more passive approach, emphasizing education on the various provisions.
That has been the approach over the past few summers.
Administrator Michael Hammond said until two weeks ago he and the Tourist Development Council had received just a handful of complaints.
But the phones have been buzzing since.
Hammond said in most of the instances, including photos on social media, he did not see that much of an issue, contending the beaches overall are clean.
A major issue, he said, resides at Barrier Dunes subdivision, which has the highest density of any development along the beach.
On a busy weekend, he said, there could be as many as 1,000 people staying within the subdivision while sharing 763 feet of coastal beach.
But, Hammond said, many who complained don’t fully understand the provisions of the ordinance, especially timeframes and what is and is not allowed on the beach.
There are also complicating factors on the ground, he said.
During sea turtle nesting season, which spans all summer and fall, law prohibits the county to go onto the beach with vehicles or personnel in the morning before the turtle patrols have done their daily surveys.
Further, each area of the beach, 26-27 miles of county, is different, the peninsula much different from Indian Pass and Indian Pass much different than St. Joe Beach.
“The whole point, I was against it,” Hammond said of LNT. “It was an overreach to claim the amount of area it did, the toe of dune to the water.
“We need a reasonable, common sense approach. There are good aspects of Leave No Trace … We need direction from the board.”
Hammond added that county personnel are on the beaches every day, a four-man crew, which parks director Billy Traylor said work seven days a week.
In the past year they have carted some 30 tons of trash off county beaches.
“The beach is cleaner than it’s been in 10 years,” Hammond said, adding that if the board wishes staff to step up enforcement staff will do so.
Kelli Godwin, executive director of the Tourist Development Council, said enforcement is a staffing issue which the TDC might have to contract out.
Traylor added that 95 percent of the people on the beach are good people, paying a lot money to have some fun on the beach. He also noted what bed taxes provide to the local economy, including jobs.
“I don’t know how you enforce it,” Traylor said. “I don’t think you can enforce it totally.”
Dr. Pat Hardman, president of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County, said the 30 tons of trash from the beach “tells you something has to be done.”
“Every other beach county enforces a leave no trace ordinance,” Hardman said. “There has to be a way to do it here.”
Hardman noted that property owners, residents, also pay taxes and contribute to the local economy.
“You have some rude, uncaring people who come down to that beach and trash it,” Hardman said.
Hammond’s recommendation was for commissioners to keep 30-40 percent of the ordinance, those portions pertaining to safety issues and the like.
“We want to keep the beach open, we don’t want glass bottles on the beach or people burning pallets,” he said.
But, he said, the local tax base was being driven by second-homes purchased to be rentals and some of those same people will be “run off” by stricter enforcement of Leave No Trace.
The prior board that approved the ordinance, completing the lengthy process, started down the path to promote Gulf County has a tourist-driven county, he added.
That has worked, the TDC has taken in record revenues for several years and, though it may inconvenience residents, tourist areas are bustling.
And, he cautioned the board, any attempt to revise the ordinance will be met with resistance.
“There will be a lot of folks who don’t like this,” Hammond said.
County attorney Jeremy Novak said Tuesday’s decision was just the start of the process of amending the ordinance, with public hearings to be scheduled so that “everyone has the opportunity to speak on the issue.”