In a letter to its top official, Jason Shoaf urged the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to step back from plans to fill a breach left behind by Hurricane Michael in T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
In his letter to Secretary Noah Valenstein, Shoaf said he believed the decision to fill the breach had been made “despite the community’s urging against it and without additional research to consider the environmental impacts.”
The letter was sent on stationary for his campaign, Jason Shoaf for State Representative, and detailed that Shoaf was a resident who lived through the storm and sees the remnants of the storm daily.
The letter followed by a few days a recent public town hall meeting at which plans for the park were unveiled.
Most particularly, the plans included partnering with the county on its late summer beach restoration project, which would now include filling the breach at Eagle Harbor.
Ultimately, the plans would also include restoring the main road running through the park as well a project to restore dune habitat wiped out by Michael.
For some at the meeting, the plans were a surprise.
“This seems a like a done deal,” said resident Dusty May, adding that during an early meeting DEP staff seemed to indicate the process would be lengthy and the public kept abreast.
Shoaf, in his letters, mentions that first town hall meeting in January.
“There is great concern in my community that the decision by the DEP did not fully consider the public’s input at the January meeting,” he wrote.
“Furthermore, environmental advocates in the community are seriously concerned that the environmental impacts have not been properly measured and fully evaluated before the decision to alter Mother Nature.”
The overwhelming public input, at least vocally, has been voiced in support of leaving the breach alone.
May is among many locals, and a member of an advocacy group to save and restore St. Joseph Bay, that believe the saltwater from the breach is a cleanser for the bay, mitigation in part for the freshwater canal.
The Defender’s of Wildlife have argued from the beginning that St. Joseph Bay should be the priority of any park plan.
On the other hand, Park Manager Mark Knapke said the overwhelming majority of public comments submitted by mail or email encourage the restoration of the camping area, which is north of the breach.
Camping is also one of the key ingredients for attendance which is among the highest in the state as well as the healthy revenue generated by the park.
And, the breach is also significantly filled, though not fully.
The depth is down to just a couple of feet, but the water continues to flow.
Given the mixed views and the sensitivity of the environment involved, Shoaf urged the DEP to hold off on its current plans.
“I urge you to delay the project to fill in the peninsula park’s breach until we can assess all the options and the consequences of each option,” Shoaf wrote. With more time, I am confident we can pursue a solution that is good for the economy, good for the environment and best for our community.”