By DOTTY NIST
In a busy agenda on Jan. 24, county commissioners made decisions on a number of issues of community interest. This was at the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting on that morning at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
After being provided with the recommendation of the Highway 331 Blue Ribbon Task Force and hearing from a number of citizens, the commissioners voted to follow the panel’s recommendation by setting a public hearing to consider setting a May 15 voter referendum. The purpose of the referendum would be to let county voters decide whether to authorize the addition of up to 1 percent to the sales tax to in order provide $75 million in matching funds for a project to expand the U.S. 331 bay bridge from two to four lanes. This is due to the state Department of Transportation indicating that more than $100 million would be provided to make the project a reality, with the condition of Walton County furnishing the $75 million match.
The public hearing to consider holding the referendum is scheduled for the next BCC regular meeting, which is to begin at 4 p.m. on Feb. 14 and take place at the South Walton Courthouse Annex. Interim County Attorney Lynn Hoshihara pointed out that the BCC could at that time decide to cap the sales tax increase to be put on the referendum ballot at less than one percent if they so desired.
In other BCC business, due to numerous complaints and concerns about damage to the beach in connection with a geotube installation project by the Retreat, the commissioners directed staff to develop clearer policies and procedures for projects requiring sand to be transported in and across the beach. Sand had been in the process of being trucked from Grayton Beach to the Retreat, which is in the Blue Mountain Beach area, resulting in large ruts in the beach sand. One citizen described the impact as making the beach unusable for beachgoers.
A county stop work order was recently placed on the geotube installation project, which had been permitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection. District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones reported that she has been meeting with the project contractor to look at alternate methods, some of which would not involve the use of trucks on the beach, with the goal of avoiding further damage to the beach. She said the contractor had agreed to remove a large pile of dirt sitting on the beach that had been taken from the project site.
At the recommendation of staff and legal counsel, the commissioners voted to extend until their next meeting a previous move to refrain from issuing building permits for properties in Block G of the interior of Driftwood Estates.
The vote followed a lengthy presentation by Shawn Heath, an attorney representing Driftwood Estates homeowners, and Alan Osborne, president of the Greater Driftwood Estates Homeowners’ Association.
County Attorney Greg Kisela said that, after hours of discussions between the parties, there had been a decision to recommend that the suspension on permits, initiated two week previous, be continued. He said his was due to concerns as to whether there were potential violations in connection with open space requirements and stormwater drainage requirements within the Sandestin development of regional impact (DRI). Much of Driftwood Estates was orginally included in the Sandestin DRI approved decades ago, and the Driftwood area is still part of the documents governing the development. By law, violations of documents and ordinances associated with the DRI disallow the issuance of building permits for new development, as the homeowners and their representatives have pointed out.
Fact gathering and discussions with representative of the homeowners are to continue, and additional action by the BCC on the matter is possible on Feb. 14.
In connection with the vacant county attorney position, the commissioners made a decision to fill the position not with a law firm but with an individual attorney who would then be able to secure additional help as needed on contract for work on cases. At the Jan. 24 meeting, the commissioners ranked applications from individual attorneys, and those rankings were tabulated to choose seven attorneys to proceed to the interview process.
County Commission Chairman Scott Brannon did not participate in reviewing or ranking applications. In response to a citizen’s concerns, he had sought an opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics as to whether he should participate. This was due to his personal attorneys, the Adkinson Firm, being one of the firms applying for the position.
Kisela said Brannon had just received the opinion the day of the meeting and was reviewing it.
The commissioners opted to arrange interviews with the seven attorneys who received multiple votes in their ranking. These include, John Bruhn, Joni Craig, Jennifer Schuler, Aleksandr Boksner, Ken Goldberg, Rene Youell, and Mike Burns. The commissioners plan to interview the candidates initially on a one-on-one basis, individually.