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Walton County seawall bill moving to House floor

Apr 14th, 2011 | 0

By DOTTY NIST

The bill (HB1311) that would allow post-Hurricane Dennis seawalls and other coastal armoring in Walton County to stay in place without a state permit, has cleared two state House of Representatives subcommittees, along with the State Affairs Committee, with predominantly favorable votes. The bill’s next stop is the House floor.

After being introduced by sponsor Marti Coley (R-Marianna) on March 7, the bill moved to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee and then the Community and Military Affairs Subcommittee, receiving all aye votes. The bill was then reported out of the State Affairs Committee with all favorable votes save one nay vote by Rep. Rick Kriseman (D-St. Petersburg).

The bill will now move to the House floor for its second reading, possibly during the House’s April 14 and 15 sessions. Bryan Cherry, Coley’s legislative aide, commented on April 11 that the date for the second reading had not been determined at that time.

The bill would affect coastal armoring constructed in Walton County between July 10, 2005, and April 30, 2005.

Referred to as a “local bill” because it applies to a particular area, HB1311 originated not with a county governmental entity but with a group of private beachfront homeowners who had constructed seawalls and other armoring after Hurricane Dennis impacted the county coastline with significant erosion.

In the emergency period following the hurricane, in order to help beachfront property owners shore up their property, Walton County had issued more than 170 sixty-day permits for temporary armoring encompassing more than 200 properties. The permits were issued with the understanding that, for the armoring structures to remain permanmently, the property owners would be required to obtain a state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit.

Much of the armoring constructed as a result of the emergency permits remains in place, but it is mainly unpermitted by the state, even though the majority of the property owners with armoring submitted applications for state permits. DEP did issue approximately 18 permits and denied permitting for more than 50.

Among other factors, issues with federally-protected endangered species raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and wildlife protection organizations resulted in the delay of permitting for the armoring. To resolve endangered species issues in connection with county government’s action with the issuance of the temporary permits, in 2007 Walton County entered an Intergovernmental Agreement with USFWS, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and DEP. As a result of the agreement, the county applied for a USFWS Incidental Take Permit (ITP) and undertook the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the beach area.

After Walton County’s legislative delegation voted to introduce the armoring bill as a local bill in the Legislature, Walton County sent a letter of concern to the legislators regarding the 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….

Read the full story in the April 14, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.

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