The Board of County Commissioners during a special meeting last week approved a request from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to partner under the county’s beach restoration permits.
The DEP portion of the restoration project will be filling in the breach, known as Michael’s Cut, at Eagle Harbor in T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
The DEP will also participate on a pro-rated basis on mobilization costs, said Assistant County Administrator Warren Yeager, which will allow the county to moderately extend the project.
The DEP has been weighing a decision on the breach caused by Hurricane Michael since the storm.
The agency received public comments during a January town hall meeting as well comments submitted by mail or online.
The agency announced its decision to move ahead with filling the breach during a recent second public town hall meeting.
The breach, once a quarter-mile across and close to 30 feet in depth, has significantly filled in. It is now less than two feet in depth.
“We have always known sand moves north along that peninsula,” Yeager said.
And, the DEP has noted from the outset a desire to restore infrastructure north of the breach, which includes camping areas and nature hiking trails.
Written comments and those submitted online were, by a significant margin, in favor of restoring the camping opportunities at the park, said Park Manager Mark Knapke.
“The economics of that park are pretty substantial,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond.
The DEP also determined that a ferry or revetment system around the breach would not be feasible and long ago the agency ruled out any kind of bridge.
Commissioner Phil McCroan noted many frequent users of St. Joseph Bay argue that water quality has improved since the breach was open allowing a flush of saltwater into the system.
McCroan emphasized it was the state’s decision to fill the breach, not the county’s.
The St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol will begin June 1 relocating sea turtle nests found within the construction corridor to an area north of the project.
The county’s portion of the project will span between the Stump Hole rock revetment north to the boundary of Billy Joe Rish State Park.
The project, delayed by myriad factors over the past three years, is now scheduled to begin in August.
Eastern bulkhead project
The Eastern Shipbuilding effort to create an outfitting yard on the former paper mill site bulkhead continues ahead, with a bid on the main building soon to be let.
Commissioners approved several paperwork issues around the project, including a proposal to devote the entire $6 million received two years ago as a state appropriation for the project to the bulkhead improvements.
Since the company and county have backed away from a floating dry dock project, $1 million earmarked for dredging is not needed for dredging, but the bulkhead improvements.
Among the first vessels slated for Eastern’s Gulf County site are three Staten Island ferries.
Highland View boat ramp
Eight years after it was announced as an “early restoration” project following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Highland View boat ramp project is slated to be completed by the end of the year.
Hammond said recent discussions with the Department of Environmental Protection, which is administrating the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) funds for the project, which multiplied several times in costs, indicate the project will be bid soon.
At the county’s request, NRDA dollars originally earmarked for a new pier at WindMark, which was bogged down in a host of issues, to the Highland View boat ramp project.