By DOTTY NIST
County commissioners are focusing on resolving problems with overcrowding at public beach accesses and increasing conflicts between the public and beach vendors in south Walton County.
At the July 22 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the Walton County Courthouse, District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld brought up the matter with a directive to Jon Ervin, South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) director of marketing and communications.
Imfeld called for additional beach accesses and more parking for beach-goers to be put “at the forefront” of TDC efforts. He was of the opinion that the 105 public parking spaces that had recently been identified for addition by county consultants along CR-30A and Scenic Gulf Drive would be far from sufficient to meet demand.
Imfeld spoke to the need for land for additional beach accesses to be identified and for a long range plan for these needs to be developed by the TDC.
Ervin responded that a map was being prepared showing all available land that would suffice for beach accesses and parking for beach-goers.
Imfeld asked for an update on these efforts to be provided at the next commission meeting.
Imfeld also commented that he was continuing to receive emails from people complaining about how they were being treated by beach chair and umbrella vendors.
Conflicts between vendors and beach-goers who want to set up their own chairs and umbrellas along the water have been prominent this season. Vendors serve private beachfront condos and homes and also receive permits to provide and deliver set-ups to public beach access areas.
Imfeld said he was aware that TDC Executive Director Jim Bagby had promised the commissioners a report on the matter at the end of the season but observed that this type of conflict “seems to be exacerbated over the past week or so.” He asked if the TDC was taking steps to improve the situation.
Ervin responded that District 5 had been heavily involved with the matter and that TDC beach code enforcement was “running at maximum capacity” to address these issues.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows said she had met with Bagby and confirmed that he and his staff were looking at the “big picture” with regard to the need for beach accesses and parking.
She said she and Bagby had also met to discuss vendor issues.
“We know it’s gotten really bad out there, and we’re trying to get through the summer, basically,” Meadows said. She told the other commissioners that Bagby would be coming forward with some options for them to discuss “with regard to vending on the public lands.”
Ervin said TDC staff was also compiling complaints and conversations from the public on the matter that they would be presenting to the BCC for their review and which should “shed a lot of light” on the situation.
“You want to know what a big problem it is,” said District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander, “…I’m afraid at some point that with both parking and the beach vendors, people are going to say, ‘I’m not coming back, I don’t have to pay $6,000 for a house and put up with this kind of thing.'”
“That’s already happening,” Meadows responded.
“We need to get a handle on it,” Comander concluded.
By DOTTY NIST