The Florida Park Service next week will hold a second public informational meeting pertaining to T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
The meeting will be held 5:30-8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday at the Centennial Building in Port St. Joe.
The public is encouraged to attend and participate.
The meeting will begin with a presentation from Park Service staff on post-hurricane recovery and current planning which will be followed by time for public comments and questions.
“We will be generous with the time,” said Daniel Alsentzer with the Office of Park Planning in the Division of Recreation and Parks.
“We will be arriving early and we will stay as long as people wish to provide comments.”
The Park Service presentation will be largely focused on potential solutions for future park access and management of the upland and aquatic resources around the site of a breach in the beach near Eagle Harbor.
The Park Service will also seek any public recommendations about areas of the park that are north of the current breach.
The breach was the major topic during a town hall meeting held in January.
Originally about a quarter-mile wide and roughly 30-feet deep, the breach has to a significant extent filled in with sand accreting from the south due to the currents and wave action along the peninsula.
While the breach is not navigable by boat, it remains a part of the park’s footprint six months after Hurricane Michael.
With just two exceptions, public speakers in January overwhelmingly supported leaving the breach and Mother Nature alone, with recommendations ranging from creating a causeway or ferry shuttle to the “island” and the north end of the park.
“Everybody loves to visit an island,” said Doug Waits, one of several speakers who said the breach provides a “golden opportunity” for the state to enhance the park’s mission and resources.
Several residents also noted improvement in the quality and clarity of the waters of St. Joseph Bay, which in their estimation had occurred after the breach began providing a flush of saltwater that, at least in theory, mitigated freshwater discharges coming out of the Gulf County Canal.
State park officials said it was too soon to gauge the impact of the beach on bay water quality.
According to county leaders, the state Department of Environmental Protection is contemplating partnering on a late summer beach restoration project to fully replace the sand lost at Eagle Harbor.
Alsentzer said in January that the price tag for renovating the park is estimated at $14 million and that cost is without doing anything to restore the breach.
The park sustained significant damage beyond the Eagle Harbor area, with the two primary campgrounds all but wiped out and trees downed throughout the park.
The state spent nearly $500,000 clearing and cleaning the park, which opened on a limited basis in January.
Access is limited to the south end of the park, from Gulf Beach and Eagle Harbor south, and is daytime only.
The state, Alsentzer said, understands the importance of the park, which attracts more than a quarter million visitors per year, bringing an economic impact to the area of $21 million, and an estimated 300 jobs.
Alsentzer added that due to the extent of the damage, a new 10-year unit plan must likely be drafted for the park; the park was in year four of its current unit plan when Michael hit.
Written comments and recommendations from the public will continue to be encouraged and accepted through May 14.
“After this meeting and review of all public comments, we will proceed with next steps regarding the breach and continue the recovery efforts for the remainder of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park,” Alsentzer said in a press release.
“With continued planning and resource restoration efforts, the Florida Park Service is striving to return St. Joseph Peninsula State Park as an asset in conservation and public resource-based recreation.”