By DOTTY NIST
A lengthy public hearing was held on Jan. 8 regarding what is now termed the Waterways and Beach Activities Ordinance. The ordinance deals with public use of the beach and conduct on the beach, including driving on the beach, where permitted, dogs on the beach, and beach vending.
The hearing took place at the Jan. 8 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the South Walton Annex.
County commissioners had tasked administration with reviewing the county’s Beach Activities Ordinance and proposing revisions aimed at making the ordinance clearer and more enforceable. Apart from that task, suggestions on the topic from the public, resulting from a series of workshops on the ordinance, were also provided to commissioners.
The draft ordinance prepared by administration deletes provisions superseded by subsequent revisions to the ordinance. It also brings code provisions related to use of the beach and conduct on the beach into one place in the code.
Most-discussed has been a suggestion to expand the permitting program that allows dogs to be taken on the beach. Currently “dog on the beach” permits are available only to citizens who are Walton County property owners and/or permanent county residents. The South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) and some residents had been in favor of letting nonresidents and their dogs into the permitting program.
Mary Nielson has been in favor of expanding the program to visiting dogs. She said she understood others’ opposition to doing so, explaining that she is for people who act responsibly and against those who do not. Nielson urged for a look at the success rate with which the ordinance is being enforced before finalizing changes to the document.
Much of the concern expressed on the topic was related to dogs leaving “presents” in the sand which are not cleaned up by their owners. in spite of the existing requirement for holders of “dog on the beach” permits to do so.
A new resident told the commissioners that the area is known for beautiful white beaches and clear waters. He spoke of the problems that already exist with dogs on the beach and expressed fear over what would happen if word went out that everyone could bring their dog to the beach.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander said she had encountered a problem with a dog “deposit” when visiting the beach. She explained that she had originally been in favor of expanding the permitting program to nonresidents because it would help the county make sure that nonresidents’ dogs had vaccination certificates. However, Comander said she had since changed her mind and did not think this should be part of the ordinance.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows agreed. “If we think we have chaos now, just institute that,” she observed.
District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld expressed concern on the draft ordinance’s potential impact on property rights and worried that it would “add a layer of bureaucracy.” He said his preference would be cleaning up the individual ordinances applying to the beach rather than bringing them together into an “omnibus” proposal.
Fort Panic property owner Ed Goodwin began talking about the impacts of the ordinance on his property rights, but was cut short because of litigation that the county is involved in related to customary use. This is in connection with plans for large-scale nourishment of the beach along the CR-30A corridor.
Blue Mountain Beach property owners Sherry and Dodi Chase complained about the state Department of Environmental Protection being called about their property and about a deputy visiting their property and telling them that their sand fencing and plants they installed in their dunes were not allowed. Sherry Chase told the commissioners that she objected to the ordinance as written.
Walton County Interim Administrator Gerry Demers reminded attendees that much of what was being objected to was contained in the existing code and that few changes were being proposed.
Clay Adkinson, substituting for Walton County Attorney Toni Craig, commented that how an ordinance will work in practice is not known until it goes into effect….
Read the full story in the Jan. 17, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.