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Town hall attendees discuss wildflowers and canopy roads

Feb 15th, 2013 | 0

By DOTTY NIST

Could some sections of CR-30A be transformed into canopy roads lined with wildflowers? This was a vision discussed at Walton County District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows’ Feb. 5 town hall meeting.

The town hall meeting, the third of a series, took place at Great Southern Cafe in Seaside.

The discussion began with Lynn Nesmith’s question about preservation of wildflowers along the right-of-way.

Nesmith asked if there could be a protective designation for the wildflowers, pointing out that the blue lupine would be blooming soon. This is a rare plant native to the area. Nesmith observed that the county mows down native wildflowers along the roadside and that previously-existing stands of lupine have been eliminated as a result.

Meadows responded that “do not mow” signs had been placed along some sections of the right-of-way to protect native plants, one of those sections being directly across from Gulf Place on CR-30A. The county, she continued, also has preservation requirements for types of native plant communities when property is developed.

Meadows also spoke of the pilot beautification program initiated last year as a partnership effort of the county and the nonprofit group Friends of 30A. The program involved the planting of native wildflower seed along CR-83.

Nesmith said the stands of lupine that she had referred to had been along the CR-30A right-of-way in the area where Collaborations had once been located in Seagrove.

Meadows pledged to try to get “do not mow” signs put up along that road section.

Seaside founder Robert Davis recalled that, 20 years ago, the South Walton Conservation and Development Trust (SWCDT) had envisioned CR-30A as a canopy road.

The trust was a local program funded by the state aimed at planning for future use of lands south of the bay in Walton County. It resulted in a guiding document, the SWCDT Plan.

Davis maintained that speed limits along CR-30A are now low enough to allow for the planting of trees close to the pavement of the county road, providing for traffic calming and the road canopies called for in the trust plan.

“There is a wrong-headed notion,” Davis declared, “that trees jump out and hit cars driven by drunks and fools.” What trees can do, he observed, is slow traffic down so that motorists do not get hurt in accidents.

Meadows agreed on the traffic-calming aspect of trees planted along the roadside, adding that trees provide shade and add value to surrounding property.

Bob Dobes of the South Walton Community Council (SWCC) commented that the SWCC had done studies and had information on which tree species are most resistant to storms.

Charlotte Flynt, a fire commissioner with the South Walton Fire District (SWFD), said she loved canopy roads but urged that fire trucks be kept in mind.

Gerry Demers, interim county administrator, said he liked the idea of vegetation along the road and suggested a comprehensive look at such vegetation. He said he could foresee this being part of a planning effort by the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) in conjunction with the responsibility for maintenance of the south Walton bike paths transitioning to the TDC. Roadside vegetation could also be incorporated into an educational program for the area that would include the coastal dune lakes, Demers commented.

Roadside vegetation could also serve the function of keeping motorists from parking in areas where they should not, Demers added.

SWFD Chief Administrator Rick Talbert stated his agreement with all the previous comments, emphasizing that roadside trees add beauty and deter parking in areas where vehicles should not be parked. Talbert said there had been issues in the past with trees blocking fire truck access—but that the SWFD is now trying to work hand-in-hand with the community to resolve those issues and ensure that trimming is done when necessary.

Talbert clarified that the SWFD does not trim trees, but that this is done by Walton County Public Works.

Meadows said she would suggest that the county do news releases to let citizens know when and where public works would be doing tree trimming.

Fred Buehler brought up the problem of roadside litter, particularly in the area of CR-395 and U.S. 98.

Identifying litter as a big priority, Meadows said she had also noticed this and that it appeared that garbage had been dumped in the area of the state forest. She attributed part of the problem to trash blowing out from the beds of construction trucks. Meadows noted that there is a $500 fine for littering on CR-395.

Meadows said that U.S. 98 is the responsibility of the state Department of Transportation, adding that she would contact DOT about litter along the highway.

Meadows said the county does not currently have staff people tasked with cleaning up its roadsides. She said she had proposed funding cleanup along the roadside and bike path from TDC revenues, with the work possibly being outsourced.

She mentioned the possibility of holding a community work day for collection of litter.

Meadows also mentioned the Adopt-A-Road program initiated south of the bay prior to her taking office. A joint effort of former Walton County District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones and the nonprofit group the Friends of 30A, the program applies to all collector and arterial roads south of the bay bridge.

Jacquee Markel expressed concern with what she perceived as a lack of county support for the Coastal Dune Lake Advisory Board (CDLAB). The members of this volunteer advisory board are appointed by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC).

Markel said she had been attending CDLAB meetings for the past five years and had observed that the advisory board was not being consulted when issues arose about the dune lakes. “What is it here for?” she asked about the CDLAB….

Read the full story in the Feb. 14, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.

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