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PSJ commissioners leave boat ramp closed

Tim Croft
tcroft@starfl.com

Port St. Joe commissioners expressed a strong desire Tuesday to re-open the boat ramp at Frank Pate Park.

The timing, however, was not quite right.

Commissioners chose to maintain the current closure through April 15, Wednesday, while leaving on the table the option of opening the ramp to Florida residents at that time.

Since closing the ramp last week, commissioners have heard an earful, several stated during Tuesday’s regular bi-monthly meeting which was taken up via video-conferencing.

However, Mayor Rex Buzzett said no matter how much he would like to open the ramp immediately, the next seven days would be important for the community in the wake of the corornavirus pandemic.

“We are pretty much surrounded,” Buzzett said, alluding to the march of the virus toward Gulf County, which as of Tuesday has seen just one positive case. “But if we continue to do what we are supposed to do.

“Folks need to understand. We didn’t (close the boat ramp) for us, we did it for them.”

Commissioner Brett Lowry, as he and Commissioner Scott Hoffman have from the onset, said he would like to explore options for opening the ramp to county or state residents only.

“Let the closure sunset and then allow for Florida residents,” Lowry said.

Hoffman said he moved toward the initial closure with the same aim, but found it unworkable for several reasons, including an enforcement mechanism that would require a code enforcement or police officer to be stationed at the ramp.

Opening to Gulf Countians only would be especially difficult, Buzzett noted, because not all residents have “Gulf” on their license tags.

“I still wish there was a way to open the boat ramp for people from Gulf County,” Hoffman said.

Attorney Clint McCahill said he would research the issue further but believed, given the circumstances and various executive orders in place, there was a mechanism by which the city could open the boat ramp for some, but not others.

Commissioners also expressed frustration with the county for not closing boat ramps at Indian Pass and White City; Hoffman said some 200 boats launched from White City over the weekend.

And with some prime saltwater fishing seasons opening up, Hoffman and Lowry each noted that visitors were still coming to the county and city despite state and county stay-at-home orders.

“These people are coming to our city, to our stores,” Hoffman said. “We haven’t really accomplished much as far as the problem and I don’t think we will without the county closing Indian Pass and White City.”

Buzzett noted that the county does not make money at either boat ramp; the city charges for use at Frank Pate Park.

He added that within a day or so of the city closing its boat ramp, Presnell’s in Simmons Bayou followed suit.

Buzzett proposed leaving the closure in place through April 15, with a proposal to open the ramp to Florida residents.

The caveat would be signage alerting any owner of an out-of-state license tag they would be towed, or car booted, at their expense, Buzzett said, leaving the rest to anglers and tow companies.

“I want to open it to locals and that was the only scenario that I could come up with,” Buzzett said.

“But let’s let (the closure) sunset. I think the next seven days are going to be critical for us. This is not a time to come down here.”

Commissioners left open the possibility of a special meeting next week to address the issue.

Long Ave.

After discussions with officials at the State Revolving Fund, the city will move ahead with necessary engineering and design work for an application to secure a package to fund an overhaul of Long Ave.

As Buzzett put it, the package would take care of the project “soup to nuts.”

That would include replacing water and sewer lines, repaving the road and replacing a lift station.

Much of the work had already been tasked out, but the city was encouraged to pull all elements together in the hopes of a favorable loan/grant package.

The Long Ave. project has been a city priority for years but the costs were a barrier too high to climb in the current climate.

NRDA grant

The city must reschedule a workshop pertaining to an $800,000-plus Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) grant for stormwater improvements.

Specifically, the project aims to improve the quality of the water that flows from 16th Street into St. Joseph Bay.

The commissioners will view options for the work, but they must hold a public workshop before any vote can be taken on moving forward.

Commissioners will likely review options before the month is over.