Why is it that some folks stay totally uninvolved while all the hard work is being done and time is being invested to bring a project to fruition? Why do those same folks leave all the heavy lifting for others to do, and then at the end, want to find fault and be destructive when they believe the work isn’t to their personal benefit or liking?

I have always had difficulty with those who are selfish and only consider themselves and not the overall good of the community or others. Just such a group is choosing to stay anonymous while trying to completely undermine the St. Joseph Peninsula Beach Restoration project. They have posted signs, launched a negative social media campaign, and mailed unsigned letters to property owners on the Peninsula. Many of those owners are nonresidents with rental properties who may be uninformed on the facts regarding the past five years’ worth of hard work by the BOCC, County Staff, and Coastal Community Association to save the beach and the entrance onto the Peninsula.

Would water front owners benefit the most from the beach restoration in terms of not losing their homes? Yes, but that was not the only reason the majority of the owners on the Peninsula, who do not live on the beach, voted to tax themselves. And it certainly was not the only reason the County and the CCA worked as hard as they have to save the Peninsula. That some of the Northern most water front lots will not immediately have sand, but will have it in the future, seems to be these folks’ problem, so they are leading a destructive campaign for the County to ditch the entire project altogether. “Sand for all or sand for none”. How bad and shortsighted is that mentality?!?

Here are some of the facts and just a few of the efforts carried out by the BOCC, the County Staff, our State representatives, along with the CCA to bring the Peninsula Beach Restoration to a successful conclusion.

1) Five years ago, I went before the BOCC working in conjunction with Commissioner Yeager and others and brought forward the fact that the erosion on the Cape was becoming an issue again. The County engineer projected that without restoration, homes would be compromised by 2017, and he acknowledged the considerable lead time required to get sand put on the beach with so many State and Federal agencies having to give their approval.

Over a number of meetings, the BOCC agreed to have an MSTU for the project and also agreed not to require the Peninsula owners to bear the entire cost, as they did for the last restoration. Instead, the BOCC agreed that the County would use funding from the oil spill and other non-ad valorem resources to match the funds. The MSTU was set at $4 million.

In addition, DEP matches at about 35%, if approved by the legislature. So the County and the CCA got the restoration project into the State budget in 2016. And because of these financial commitments by the BOCC and the DEP, property owners will pay less than one-third of the cost to save the Peninsula.

2) The first MSTU failed by 3 votes. So the CCA went back to the BOCC and requested that they have another vote, which occurred approximately a year later. Meanwhile, a CCA Committee embarked on a campaign to educate property owners on the importance of all the different reasons for beach restoration. The entire effort took over a year, but the second MSTU passed strongly. This allowed the BOCC to engage an engineer to start the laborious and time consuming permitting process, as well as to obtain the DEP matching funds through legislation.

3) During this process, Representative Halsey Beshears, at both the County and my request, set up a meeting with DOT to request their participation in the project with a contribution of $3 million to put sand and offshore structures at the Stump Hole, to help protect State Road 30E. This additional funding would bring the total for the project to slightly over $14 million. The Secretary agreed in a meeting with Representative Halsey Beshears, Senator Bill Montford, County Staff, me, and DEP. The engineering was based on that figure, as was the DEP request for legislative funding.

Since that time, DOT has reneged on their commitment of the $3 million, even with extreme efforts on the part of the County, Representative Halsey Beshears, the CCA, and me as late as January this year for them not to do so. Their present position is that they will do nothing at the Rocks until the road breaks through, and then they will begin the process of building a bridge at a cost of approximately $60 million plus years for construction.

4) Since FEMA will NO longer participate in beach restoration on the Peninsula because it is in a CBRA area, the BOCC has placed an even higher priority on their continuing efforts to have CBRA removed. If they were to be successful in this effort, the problem of paying for the erosion of the sand from the beach would be permanently resolved. This is a highly critical, yet long and protracted process involving Federal legislative action.

5) It took years to go through the permitting process for restoration with thousands of hours spent by the engineers, County Staff, and the CCA to finally obtain the last of the permits in August 2017. Almost two years after promised.

6) The BOCC immediately put the project out for bid from dredging companies. But two hurricanes tore up most of the ports and beaches from South to North Florida in September, all of which were covered by FEMA, so the dredging companies had more business than they could handle. The low bid for the project came in at approximately $18 million. After the removal of the $3 million from DOT and the costs of permitting, etc., we have slightly more than $10 million for the project.

7) The BOCC directed County Staff to research all possible solutions to try and bring the cost down. This led to the possibility of using certified sand hauled in from the Wewa area, including using a County-owned sand pit able up to handle the necessary amount of sand. Hundreds of hours were spent trying to make that solution work, but it was impossible because it would require almost 70,000 truckloads to equal the amount of sand that needs to be dredged.

So at the December meeting of the BOCC, all bids were refused. The engineer was then tasked to bring back the best solution possible to accomplish the most good and present that solution in January with an open Workshop to give all residents a chance to participate. The CCA advertised this extensively, and at the January CCA meeting, we brought everyone up to date on where we were and encouraged all Peninsula owners to attend the workshop.

Few people attended, and no one spoke up against the recommendations at the workshop or at the BOCC meeting. The decision was made to do a reverse bid with the best that could be done that would fall within the engineering requirements, recommendations, and the funds available. Funding was simply not available to take the project as it had been envisioned, but the fact that all sand put on the South end of the peninsula ultimately goes North so that the North end is actually accreting means a “feeder beach restoration” would be bid, so that all the St. Joseph Peninsula beach gets sand just at different times.

At my request, they worded their motion so that if any additional funds could be obtained, those could be added to the bid contract. The County Staff and I had turned over every stone to find additional funds. We had one more slight possibility through having the $3 million that DOT removed put into the general State budget. At our request, Representative Halsey Beshears and Senator Bill Montford have put this item in the budget. As late as last week, County Staff and I were spending time in Tallahassee working hard to try to keep this item in the budget, but the chances are slim.

8) We have been trying to find a new public beach access point for almost four years. Again, folks never cease to amaze me. Think of the number of hours spent on this one item alone. We found four possible locations. One didn’t have the legal access needed. Another one had road access through an old subdivision, but even though that road is almost unpassable and the County would have kept the road up, and even though the access from the lot on the road would have been a walking access, still a few people threatened to sue. So I could not recommend the county go through that protracted process.

The others raised their price when they realized it was the County that wanted to buy the land, even though they had been advised that the County could ONLY pay the appraised value, which was the original sale price for the lot. Bet these are some of the folks fussing about not getting sand on “their” beach. The DEP match from a new public beach access would bring at least an additional $300,000to $500,000 worth of sand to the project and would extend to any future projects.

 

At every step of this process the BOCC, County Staff, our Florida representatives, the CCA, and I have put forward the necessary time and effort to try to find solutions to save the beaches of the St. Joseph Bay Peninsula for the property owners, as well as for the economic impact on the County as a whole, but more for the entire environmental impact on our turtles, birds, and general way of life in Gulf County. Now a small minority wants to undermine all that effort with the selfish notion that if I can’t have it, no one can have it. Never have they met with me, the CCA, our County Commissioners, County Staff, or anyone else with constructive recommendations to overcome the hurdles that the rest of us have spent so much time, effort, and yes, money to try to resolve.

Yes, I am personally offended. So my recommendation to the anonymous faction is: 1) Bring solutions not criticisms to the table. 2) Expend your time and effort to help find the additional $4 million needed if you want sand right now in front of your home, which is next to the public beach. Become involved in fundraising for yourself. 3) Find a new public beach access for the County. 4) Don’t destroy the project for everyone just because you believe you don’t personally benefit. 5) Work with the BOCC, County Staff, and others to be constructive and come out of the closet.

Sincerely.

Patricia K. Hardman, PhD, President

On behalf of the Entire Concerned Board of the Coastal Community Association of South Gulf County