By DOTTY NIST
Two board members of the Retreat subdivision have agreed to stop dump trucks that had been carrying sand from Grayton Beach to their Blue Mountain Beach-area beachfront subdivision.
The decision took place at a community meeting held on Jan. 30 at the Walton County District 5 office in Grayton Beach.
Recently the Retreat’s contractor began stockpiling beach quality sand at Grayton Beach access and hauling loads of the sand along the beach in dump trucks from Grayton to the Retreat, a trip of several miles. The sand was for the installation of geotubes as a measure against beach erosion for the beachfront area of the Retreat, a project permitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
There had been many complaints about large ruts left on the beach by the trucks and other damage to the beach—and of the trucks disturbing the enjoyment of beachgoers.
On Jan. 23, Walton County Code Enforcement placed a stop work order for the sand stockpiling, and the contractor was not allowed to place any more sand at the location. Trucks were allowed to continue hauling the sand to the project site until the pile was gone. Code enforcement also required the contractor to remove a pile of dark sand placed at the Grayton access that had been removed from the beach at the project site.
At the Jan. 24 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting, District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones reported that she has been meeting with the project contractor to look at alternate methods. Jones also spoke to the need for the county to develop policies for beach projects in which sand must be brought in and/or transported.
On Jan. 26, county code enforcement reported that DEP had agreed to include on the project permit the option for the Retreat to bring sand in across their own property through the use of a conveyor belt rather than by dump truck.
At the Jan. 30 community meeting, Retreat homeowners and board of directors members Dave Lovell and Ed Erbesfield met with community members who had expressed concern about the project. Commissioner Cecilia Jones, who had organized the meeting, was present, as well as Walton County Administrator Greg Kisela and a number of county staff members. More than two dozen citizens were in attendance.
Kisela noted that the Retreat had applied to do this project approximately five years ago. He estimated that 5,000 cubic yards of sand had been moved to date and that the project would require moving an additional 14,000 cubic yards. “There’s never a good time to do these projects,” Kisela said. Kisela also admitted that the county had been remiss in not providing more information on the project in advance.
Lovell observed that the project had been “causing quite a lot of outcry in the community.
“We have done what we felt was the right thing to do,” he told the gathering.
Lovell maintained that the impact of the project “pales in comparison” when compared to the activity that took place on the beach following 2005 Hurricane Dennis. “We’re not doing anything that hasn’t been done, we’re just doing it six years later,” Lovell noted. He said the Retreat had waited all that time to get a state permit before going ahead with the geotube installation.
Lovell said the Retreat owners had never sought to drive a wedge into the community. “We didn’t expect this,” he said of the controversy.
“We are here as peacemakers, not problem makers,” Erbesfield told the group. He said the Retreat has spent hundreds of thousands on the project and had kept geotubes purchased six years ago in storage all this time. The homeowners had gone with this type of project because they believed it to be more eco-friendly than other alternatives such as seawalls, he commented.
Erbesfield said he believes the Retreat has been wrongly portrayed as “an uppity neighborhood,” when the homeowners are no different than anyone else in the area. He explained that people other than Retreat homeowners and residents often fish or sit in chairs on the Retreat’s beachfront. He was not aware of any incident of the sheriff being called to remove anyone from the property within the past three years. He said that an incident prior to that time, in which the Retreat had initiated the arrest of a beachgoer. had been a special circumstance involving “a renegade.”
“We want to make it right,” Erbesfield said of the beach project….”
Read the full story in the Feb. 2, 2012 edition of the Herald Breeze.