By DOTTY NIST
To fund Walton County’s proposed Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), county staff are now proposing a one-time fee of $100 per linear foot of seawall. The fee would be paid by property owners who constructed coastal armoring permitted on a temporary basis by the county in the emergency period following 2005 Hurricane Dennis.
The payments are not mandatory. However, they would enable the property owners to participate in Walton County’s HCP in order to fulfill requirements in connection with state permits they are seeking for their post-Dennis seawalls, most of which are still in place. With approved state permits, the seawalls would be allowed to remain on a permanent basis.
According to the proposal, property owners with seawalls are to pay a share equal to what will be paid by those who construct seawalls in the future which are permitted by the county on an emergency basis.
The stated purpose of the county’s HCP is to minimize and mitigate for impacts on native wildlife of armoring that the county may permit on an emergency basis following future storm events. The proposed HCP, which is to apply to the beach area, is the result of an agreement between Walton County, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A number of different funding options have been discussed for the HCP, and funding has been the most controversial aspect of the plan for seawall owners. However, it has often been noted that it is unlikely that an HCP would have been required if Walton County had not issued emergency permits following Hurricane Dennis to allow beachfront property owners to construct armoring to shore up their property. The permits were issued with the understanding that a state permit would be required for armoring to become permanent.
On Dec. 1, Walton County environmental staff hosted a workshop for stakeholders on the topic of the HCP at South Walton Courthouse Annex. About a dozen county residents attended. Discussion on the plan lasted several hours.
Blue Mountain Beach homeowner Emmett Hildreth objected to references to the “take” of wildlife in the HCP. He argued that there was no evidence that the armoring structures constructed by the homeowners had caused take or harm to native species.
“This isn’t accusing you of take,” countered Bob Ernest, county environmental consultant, in reference to the HCP. Ernest explained that the HCP does state that there is potential for take with future armoring permitted by the county on an emergency basis following storm events.
Hildreth later continued with his argument, stating that there was no reason why any take would occur as a result of armoring.
Other attendees disagreed with the statement that take had not occurred due to the seawalls, and Walton County Environmental Manager Billy McKee later stated that wildlife regulatory agencies had told the county that the seawalls had resulted in take of native species.
South Walton County resident Jacquee Markel was concerned about scouring of the beach that could occur due to the dynamics of seawalls. She asked who would be responsible for paying for repair of these impacts. McKee responded that this would be the responsibility of the property owner with the seawall.
The original estimate to fund the HCP had been $10.3 million over the 25-year period that it will operate. Then staff “backed out” the amount the county already spends on items that would apply to HCP requirements over 25 years, one example being sea turtle monitoring. This amount was calculated at $7 million. McKee anticipated that the $100-per-foot fee for participating property owners with seawalls would furnish almost two-thirds of the remaining $3 million required to fund the HCP, with additional property owners participating in the future providing the remainder….
Read the full story in the Dec. 9, 2010 edition of the Herald Breeze.