Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Port St. Joe Commission had a special message for the St. Joe Company.
Provide a better agreement for docking charter boats along city-owned bulkhead or don’t seek any permits to develop the former Port St. Joe Marina site.
That was, nearly verbatim, the language contained in a motion approved 3-1 after another meeting commissioners expressed frustration with trying to permit a few charter captains access to city-owned bulkhead in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.
In response to a first look at a draft agreement provided by St. Joe, commissioners voted (Commissioner David Ashbrook dissenting, Commissioner Brett Lowry absent) to immediately move to accommodate the docking of boats on city bulkhead.
Further, if the matter escalates to litigation with St. Joe, commissioners approved denying all permits pertaining to development of the St. Joe-owned marina site, prior approval by the Planning and Development Review Board (PDRB) or not.
Commissioner Scott Hoffman, by far the most vocal opponent of the draft agreement, noted St. Joe officials will be before the PDRB 4 p.m. ET the coming Tuesday during a special hearing to unveil publicly their plans for the marina.
And while he was excited about development potential at the marina, Hoffman said, “We’re not just going to roll over. The city has a big part in those plans. We need to safeguard what we own.”
The draft agreement, in its recitals, acknowledged that the city owned Jetty Park, sought to dock four vessels along the park bulkhead and, the point of contention, had to travel over St. Joe-owned submerged land to navigate the water to access the city-owned bulkhead.
The term of the agreement expired at the end of the current year, which Hoffman said was severely lacking; he was thinking 30 years.
Hoffman, who characterized the agreement as asking permission to use city property, added that St. Joe “does not own the water” despite owning the marina site and the city has riparian rights to operate from its own property.
The city’s attorney, subbing for Adam Albritton, offered strenuous caution to moving ahead with docking boats without an agreement with St. Joe, though she did characterize the draft agreement as “slanted” and “one-sided.”
This was a first offer, she said, better a counter than a courtroom.
She urged commissioners to table the agreement for two weeks and added that St. Joe’s first response would likely be to seek an injunction in court which would leave the property unused for months.
Several times, she cautioned, let the agreement process continue.
“We will wind up in litigation,” Ashbrook said, noting that litigation could be in court for months. “It is going to get ugly.”
One resident, Mel Magidson, said that might not be a bad thing.
Even should St. Joe seek an injunction which was granted, which entity would be most hurt by a delay, the company or the city?
“You will have the leverage,” Magidson said.
And Hoffman said he was “tired” of the machinations surrounding what should have been a straightforward agreement to use city property.
The draft arrived months, Hoffman noted, after the city first pursued such a document in late January and early February.
Over a series of public meetings city officials said an agreement was near; none appeared before this week.
One captain, Bill Little, moved a new boat to the original Fishin’ Express from New Jersey in February in anticipation an agreement was at hand.
“The priority is to get the boats in the water,” Hoffman said. “It’s clear there is support for the people of Port St. Joe to use what we own.”
And, Mayor Bo Patterson said if it meant a fight with St. Joe Company, so be it.
“We have people who make a living on the water,” said Mayor Bo Patterson. “We have people who can’t make a living now who can’t wait another two days, let alone two weeks.”