Remember Scandaloosa County, a nickname coined to describe local government corruption during the Mark Bellinger era at the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council?
Your help is needed to pull Okaloosa County from another swamp. In 2010, in swamp-like fashion, Okaloosa County turned over rewriting the county Inlet Management Plan to the city of Destin. As one might expect in the swamp, Destin re-wrote the plan for the exclusive benefit of Destin’s Holiday Isle, and to the detriment of everyone else.
The Swamp Plan: Destin’s new Inlet Management Plan, aka “The Swamp Plan”, turns science upside down. The plan uses a computer model to disavow the findings of all previous studies, deny obvious physical characteristics, and claim sand moves backwards. The Swamp uses computer models to create any answer it wants.
Sand moves along the shore mainly east to west in the Florida panhandle. Today sand to the east of Okaloosa Island, including sand along Destin’s shore, naturally moves onto Okaloosa Island. Destin’s East Pass impedes that natural flow, requiring bypassing downshore to minimize sand lost by downdrift beaches. Sand placement around the inlet is controlled by the Swamp Plan.
On June 20, the Okaloosa County Commission (BCC) will vote whether to let Destin get away with cutting off Okaloosa Island’s natural sand supply and diverting it to Holiday Isle’s private beaches via the Swamp Plan.
A vote against good sand for Okaloosa Island public beaches is also a vote against good sand for most of Destin, which is also denied good sand by the plan.
Drain This Swamp: In 2017, the BCC hired a special counsel and coastal engineering expert who identified ways to right this wrong and get good sand, when needed, for Okaloosa County beaches. Getting good sand for Okaloosa Island and for portions of Destin east of Holiday Isle requires revising the Swamp Plan. At the April 25 sand workshop, chairman Ketchel, vice-chairman Fountain and commissioner Goodwin supported revising the plan. The special counsel stated Florida Department of Environment Protection (FDEP) officials support rewriting the plan, too.
Sand Quality: Okaloosa Island is a rare, native sand beach that has never been “restored.” God made this beach with the soft, sugar white sand enjoyed by tourists and locals. With 9 public accessways and plenty of free parking, Okaloosa Island is the public beach used by most of the county.
The beach changes daily, yet is still the same 300-feet wide described in records from the 1860s, and in the island’s protective covenants recorded in 1955. In 2011, many friends of the island united to defeat Okaloosa County’s plan to cover this beautiful beach with fill described by FDEP’s administrative law judge as too dark, with too many shell shards, and with too many large chunks. In his order the judge wrote the county’s project would have taken Okaloosa Island from the best beach of the seven Florida panhandle beaches to the worst overnight.
Sand Options: Keeping the Swamp Plan permits Destin’s Holiday Isle to continue to divert native beach quality East Pass sand from public beaches onto their private beaches at public expense. It unnecessarily condemns Okaloosa Island public beaches, as well as the remaining Destin beaches to inferior offshore fill.
Likewise, entering the Federal Shore Protection Program compels Okaloosa Island, if ever “restored,” to be covered with inferior fill. If the city of Destin wishes to enter the federal program, despite no sand quality standards, it should do so alone.
Sand Vote: Opening the Swamp Plan allows Okaloosa County to get good sand for Okaloosa Island and all of Destin. It also makes possible established sand preservation options like sand transfer stations that minimize sand lost out to sea.
Without that authority, we remain mired in Swampaloosa County. Good white sand will go to Destin’s Holiday Isle private beach playground for the rich. Dark, shell-shard laden fill will go on Okaloosa Island public beach for the rest of us.
What some politicians do, other politicians can undo. Join us at the next BCC meeting, at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, in the county administration building in Shalimar. It will take a vote of 3 commissioners keeping their campaign promises to save God’s beach and turn back the swamp.
Rebecca Sherry is President, Condo Alliance of Okaloosa Island, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 850-244-2744.