By DOTTY NIST
Revisions to Walton County’s Beach Activities Ordinance are to be considered by county commissioners at a Jan. 8 public hearing. The proposed revisions come after three public workshops held on the ordinance by Walton County Administration.
The Beach Activities Ordinance deals with public use of the beach and conduct on the beach, including driving on the beach, where permitted, and beach vending.
County commissioners had tasked administration with reviewing the ordinance and proposing revisions aimed at making the ordinance clearer and more enforceable. Proposed revisions to the ordinance are in line with the scope of that direction by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC). Administration has incorporated the proposed revisions into a draft document.
Requests for changes and additions to the ordinance that were not part of that scope were not incorporated into the draft document but will be presented to the commissioners separately in order to get the commissioners’ direction on them.
The first of these is the possibility of making permits available for tourists or other nonresidents to take their dogs on the beach.
Currently, “dog on the beach” permits are available only to Walton County property owners and permanent residents. These permits provide for dogs to be taken onto the beach between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. during Daylight Savings Time and between 3 p.m. and 9 a.m. during non-Daylight Savings Time. Permit holders are required to keep their dogs on a leash and clean up after them.
There is a $40 annual fee for dog on the beach permits. A $5 portion of the fee goes to support the county’s Habitat Conservation Plan. According to Walton County Interim Administrator Gerry Demers, it was suggested during the workshop process that these permits be made available to nonresidents at a higher rate. Demers noted that extending dog on the beach permits to nonresidents has been supported both by deputies and code enforcement officers and by the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC). He said the ability to take dogs on the beach has been a top request for tourists.
Demers said that this would be a change that could be accomplished with a minor change to the ordinance by means of an addition to the fee schedule.
Among other suggestions outside the scope of the ordinance review are: charging charter fishing operations a higher fee for beach vehicle access permits; franchising the exclusive right to vend at public beach accesses; constructing racks for vendors to store their equipment at public beach accesses; issuance of free permits under the ordinance to any veteran with a disability; the addition of a Habitat Conservation fee to all permits issued under the ordinance; and an increase in fines for “glass on the beach” violations. In addition, there has been a request by beach vendors to allow them to obtain state certification to survey the beach for sea turtle nests. Also there has been a request by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that any items left on the beach at night be removed by the county. While this is already a requirement per the current ordinance, the county’s practice has been to have code enforcement officers flag the items and allow 24 hours before removing them.
The draft ordinance would provide for portions of the code that were superseded when new ordinances were approved to be deleted, thus removing duplicate and outdated material. It would also bring portions of the code dealing with the beaches into one location in the code.
However, as proposed, fees and penalties associated with beach activities would be removed from the ordinance and put into a separate resolution, in order to provide for the amounts of the fees and penalties to be updated as necessary without the need to change the ordinance. The proposed resolution also provides for additional penalties in the form of civil citations to serve as an enforcement tool.
The resolution would set fines for violations in connection with glass bottles on the beach, beach driving without a permit or during unpermitted hours, unpermitted fires on the beach, overnight camping on the beach, littering, and holding special events without a permit. ranging from $25 to $200 for a first violation to as much as $500 for third and subsequent violations.
Proposed revisions to the section on beach fires clarify that a permit approved by the South Walton Fire District (SWFD) is required for any activity resulting in an open flame on the beach—and that all beach fires must be in a container approved by the SWFD. It is stated that owners of property adjacent to the beach are exempt from the requirement to have the container approved by the SWFD—but that “under no circumstances may fires be directly on the sand beach so as to contaminate the white sand.” It is added that, in addition to the requirement for a fireworks display permit from the SWFD for fireworks south of the bay, there would be a requirement for the company providing the display to have a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm Explosive License….
Read the full story in the Jan. 3, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.