By DOTTY NIST
The final hearing on proposed revisions to the Walton County Waterways and Beach Activities Ordinance took place on Jan. 22, concluding with the revised ordinance being approved.
This was at the regular Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.
Gerry Demers, interim county administrator, commented that there had been few changes to the ordinance since it had been reviewed by commissioners two weeks ago.
One of those had been the removal of a provision that would have extended permitting for the “dog on the beach” program to people other than full-time Walton County residents and property owners. In addition, a previously-existing requirement for beach vendors to display swimmer advisory flags was modified to instead require them to provide informational displays on the county’s swimmer advisory flag system.
In response to a suggestion by Mary Nielson, the BCC directed a change in a provision directing complaints about a public boat ramp being blocked to go to the county administrator’s office. Nielson suggested that they should instead go to code enforcement or the sheriff’s office, and this was agreed to.
Nielson also brought up a provision in the ordinance allowing beachfront property owners to receive a “single permit” for fires such as bonfires rather than having to obtain an individual permit for each fire. She asked if this right would transfer from an owner to a renter of beachfront property. It was directed that a notation be added specifying that this right would not transfer.
Ed Goodwin brought up concerns about the effect of the ordinance on his rights as a beachfront homeowner, including his right to launch a boat from his property. Demers responded that one of the sections highlighted by Goodwin was concerned with public boat ramps and that the other had been deleted from the ordinance. Goodwin continued to discuss property rights issues and his right to protect his property from trespass. District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows expressed the hope that the county could “strike a balance” and reach a compromise with beachfront property owners over property rights.
In response to a request by Jay Nettles of Seascape Resort, a change was directed to allow one beachfront hut per 500 feet to service guests in the instances of properties with more than 1,000 feet of beachfront. This was in order to allow Seacape’s huts to remain in place.
Richard Fowlkes cautioned the commissioners to make sure that they would not be allowing more huts than were already existing to go on the beach.
Meadows moved for approval of the ordinance with the changes specified and with the ability for the ordinance to be brought back to the BCC if needed, as in the case of scrivener’s errors.
District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld expressed concern at the lack of definition of enforcement of the ordinance and how proper enforcement of its provisions would be funded.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander responded that in her opinion enforcement was a separate issue.
Meadows agreed, saying that the sheriff’s office had agreed to help enforce the ordinance—and that she thought its enforcement could be achieved with that assistance and with a “beefed-up” county code enforcement. Meadows said she thought the ordinance provided protection to the public.
Her motion for approval of the revised ordinance carried 4-1, with Imfeld voting no.
Approved as well was a resolution setting forth fees in connection with the ordinance and fines for violations of its terms.