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Seawall bill to be filed soon in legislature

Feb 24th, 2011 | 0

By DOTTY NIST

A local bill that would make post-Hurricane Dennis seawalls and other coastal armoring in Walton County permanent without a state permit will soon be filed in the Florida Legislature.

It concerns seawalls and other coastal armoring structures constructed between July 10, 2005, and April 30, 2006.

On Dec. 15, 2010, at a public hearing held by Walton County’s legislative delegation in Santa Rosa Beach, county beachfront homeowner Emmett Hildreth, in the company of a group of other seawall owners, presented the bill in its original form. The legislation is termed a local bill because it applies to one specific area.

The current draft of the bill is the result of meetings between representatives of owners the post-Hurricane Dennis armoring structures, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and Walton County staff.

The bill would apply to seawalls and other armoring structures constructed as a result of Walton County issuing permits for temporary armoring in the wake of Hurricane Dennis. The hurricane made landfall at Santa Rosa Island on July 10, 2005, causing significant beach erosion in Walton County. The 60-day permits were issued during the emergency period following the hurricane to enable beachfront property owners to shore up their property. They were issued with the understanding that, for the structures to remain in place permanently, a state permit must be obtained. The county issued a total of 173 emergency permits, encompassing 206 properties.

Much of the armoring constructed as a result of the emergency permits remains in place but is for the most part unpermitted by the state—even though all but a few of the properties applied for state armoring permits. DEP did issue 18 permits for the armoring and denied more than 50. Among other factors, permitting by the state has been delayed due to issues related  “take” or harm to federally-protected endangered species that were identified in connection with the armoring by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and wildlife organizations. USFWS participates in the review process for state coastal armoring permit applications.

To resolve those issues on the part of the county, in 2007 Walton County entered an Intergovernmental Agreement with DEP, USFWS, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The agreement resulted in the county applying for a USFWS Incidental Take Permit (ITP) and, as part of that permit application, being responsible for creating a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for protection of sea turtles and other native species that rely on the beach area.

Public input meetings on the HCP began in October 2009. The HCP  was strongly opposed by many of the seawall owners, who disputed that take had occurred as a result of their armoring. With work on the HCP completed in January 2011, county commissioners voted to transmit the plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for review, as seawall owners continued with their opposition to the HCP and with requests to delay the plan.

On Jan. 11, 2011, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) voted to send a letter of concern to Walton County’s legislative delegation regarding the proposed local bill. Based on concerns about the “character and integrity of our beach and dune system,” the letter expressed opposition to allowing all the armoring to remain in place and exempt from all state permit conditions. The letter also expressed hope that a mutually-acceptable compromise could be reached to help the property owners in need of state armoring permits. The BCC requested that permit applications for the structures be reviewed by the state “to insure that the structures were properly constructed and will not have negative consequences to adjacent properties and the dune system”—but suggested that the state be allowed to waive its current “eligibility and vulnerability” criteria in connection with armoring applications meeting all other requirements.

“Having a permit on file would legitimize the structure and would facilitate maintenance accountability and tracking,” the letter further stated.

The county’s request for the requirement of state permits to stay in place for the armoring is not reflected in the local bill as proposed.

The local bill would allow post-Hurricane Dennis seawalls and sand-filled geotextiles to stay in place on a permanent basis without the requirement for a permit, even structures that may be encroaching off the property of the person constructing the structure—although it is specified that the bill does not authorize such placement without consent of the owner of the adjacent property.

The bill would require DEP to “develop an informational list” of the structures to which it is to apply, with a description of the type of structure and its location in relation to the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) and the coastal range monuments that are part of a statewide network of survey monumentation used by DEP.

The bill would also authorize, without need for a permit, completion of work on armoring structures for which construction began between July 10, 2005 and April 30, 2006, as long as the work takes place landward of the armoring structure and occurs within one year. Examples of this work would include tiebacks, walers and bulkhead caps….

Read the full story in the February 24, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.

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