On social media, signs along highways, there are protests


The county decision to focus a beach restoration project south of Billy Joe Rish State Park has sparked a backlash, albeit an anonymously-driven backlash.

Not long after the Board of County Commissioners voted late last month to rebid a beach restoration project and narrow the scope to the Stump Hole at the southern end north to Billy Joe Park, a homemade sign reading, “Sand for All or Sand for None” was placed atop the rock revetment at the Stump Hole.

Commercial signs stating the same sentiment have since popped up on the cape and peninsula as well along major traffic corridors in Port St. Joe.

A social media campaign is also underway and letters have been mailed to property owners.

To date no person or group has claimed responsibility for the campaign, but it is reflecting a growing outrage in pockets of South Gulf County, according to several readers who have reached out.

As one reader characterized it, “Tensions are rising and this is a battle that is just heating up.”

On Monday, the board of the Coastal Community Association released a response to the campaign, urging those behind efforts to, as the board stated, “undermine” the project, come forward and work constructively with the county and CCA.

The letter also recounts the multi-year saga to reach the point of bidding the project last fall.

(Visit www.starfl.com and Letters to the Editor to read the entire response)

In January, after rejecting an earlier round of bids as beyond the county’s $10,6 million budget for the project, the BOCC followed staff recommendations to rebid the project with a focus on the south end of the project boundaries.

In addition to reducing costs, with northern “hot spots” to be dealt with by hauling sand from a county-owned inland sand pit, the county’s consulting engineer said the northern end of the project did not need restoration at this time.

Since a restoration project nearly a decade ago, beaches north of Billy Joe Rish Park have grown, in significant measure due to the migration of sand placed south of Billy Joe Rish Park to the north.

More than 1.5 million cubic yards of sand has been lost on the southern section, Stump Hole to Rish Park, but the section from Rish Park to the Peninsula State Park has gained nearly 300,000 cubic yards.

On the southern end, some structures are within 75 feet of the water and the beach is narrow and low, providing minimal storm protection.

To the north, structures are least 200 feet from the water and the beach is wide and high, providing the level of storm protection which would be expected.

The northern section of the beach is gaining 1 to 2 feet per year.

“This area really does not need beach restoration,” said coastal engineer Michael Dombrowski said. “It is performing as designed.”

That accretion, in turn, will allow the county to bid the project under the concept of a “feeder beach” that will ultimately see sand placed south feed northern beaches; the designation provides some flexibility in designing and constructing the project.

Critics of the decision to narrow the scope, however, note that regardless of circumstances on the ground, the result is a segment of South Gulf property owners will continue to be taxed, in the form of a Municipal Services Taxes Unit (MSTU) passed by South Gulf voters, without the benefit pledged at the time of the MSTU balloting.

Critics labeled the decision a “trick” for a project which was in one form when the MSTU was approved and something completely different upon delivery and question whether the MSTU, which once failed by three votes, would have passed if property owners had understood the changes to come.

CCA president Dr. Pat Hardman and the board responded by detailing at length the process undertaken and outlining various pieces still moving in orbit around the project.

In addition, Hardman noted that at the time the alternatives and recommendations were presented to the county last month, there was no one who expressed disagreement.

“Why do … folks leave the heavy lifting to 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?” Hardman wrote.