The Board of County Commissioners is likely to take up the county’s ordinances pertaining to Leave No Trace and RVs during Tuesday’s monthly meeting.
Meeting agendas are typically released the Thursday prior to the meeting, after press time, however, neither ordinance was on the agenda last month and both were discussed at some length.
The tenor of that discussion revolved primarily around Leave No Trace and the lack of enforcement of some provisions pertaining to personal property left on the beaches.
County administrator Michael Hammond recommended that commissioners “redline” portions of the ordinance, maintaining those that focus on beach safety and eliminating provisions that are contrary to a “common sense” approach.
Hammond said the ordinance was a “nightmare” to enforce and an “overreach” by the BOCC that approved it nearly five years ago.
The BOCC has never devoted the funds or manpower to enforcement of all provisions of Leave No Trace, opting instead for an education effort, which many argue has run its course.
The board had a Wednesday morning workshop to receive public comment before taking formal action Tuesday.
In two public forums sponsored by the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County and attended by residents from across the coastal areas of the county, common ground was found around urging commissioners to step back from any revisions.
From there, allow a citizens committee to work as a liaison with county staff in reviewing Leave No Trace for recommendations to the board.
Discussed during those public forums have been informal and formal online surveys that showed a solid majority of responding residents and visitors supported a Leave No Trace ordinance and its enforcement.
The Northwest Florida Office of the Defenders of Wildlife weighed in to the debate against the backdrop of a Habitat Conservation Plan which, now in its fifth draft and several years of back-and-forth with federal agencies, the county and those agencies have yet to approve.
That plan would leave the oversight of development permitting, as they pertain to federal guidelines under the Endangered Species Act, to the county.
The Defenders of Wildlife, a national non-profit founded in 1947, has 200 members and supporters in Gulf County and over 50,000 in Florida.
In his letter to commissioners, Senior Representative Kent Wimmer, said the findings portion of the county’s LNT ordinance, which he noted is intended to “comply” with Florida law, provides a road map for the ordinance.
The findings include Gulf County is “at the core” of a Forgotten Coast known for “pristine beaches, critical environmental habitats and state restricted lands and parks” and LNT “has a vital role” in preserving and enhancing the natural environment.
Sea turtles and other protected species find natural habitat on the local beaches, the ordinance details.
And, the findings continue, items left behind on the beaches are safety hazards, obstacles and “adversely affect tourism … economic interests … and can be an obstruction for sea turtles and other protected species.”
“In order to protect and maintain the use of the Public Beach for residents, tourists, visitors, wildlife and maintenance crews, the overnight placement of items of personal property on the Public Beach must be … prohibited,” continues the language of the county’s ordinance, Wimmer wrote.
Wimmer wrote that the LNT ordinance adheres to two of the seven principles of leave no trace, which is actually a term originated in forestry management: respecting wildlife and being considerate of other visitors.
Recovery plans for several endangered or threatened species of turtles also require the same actions as found in the LNT ordinance.
Wimmer also noted that the fifth draft of the HCP “consistently references the LNT ordinance, which would make it one of the County’s most frequently used tools to avoid and minimize human impacts on sea turtles, beach mice and shore birds.”
Wimmer later wrote, “The County’s sudden about-face on the LNT ordinance would create even more distance between measures (in the current draft of the HCP) and the measures necessary to achieve compliance with the ESA.”
If commissioners proceed as indicated last month, the board will also take up a recommendation from Hammond to strike the current RV ordinance in its entirety.
That would return the county to the language of the land development regulations which allow one RV per lot regardless of geographical location in the county.
The current ordinance prohibits an RV within one mile of open coastal waters save for two seven-day permits per year.
After initial passage, the communities of Highland View, Oak Grove and St. Joe Beach were removed from the provisions of the ordinance.