BCC opts not to pursue gulf fishing pier, directs TDC to research Eastern Lake outfall property

PRESENTED AT the July 24 Walton County Board of County Commissioners meeting were these results of a survey recently conducted on the possibility of a gulf fishing pier.

By DOTTY NIST

At this time, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) will not be pursuing the possibility of a gulf fishing pier after conducting a survey on such a pier. In other action, the BCC has tasked the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) with researching potential uses of property located at the Eastern Lake outfall that could possibly be acquired for public use.

The decisions took place at the BCC’s July 24 regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse.

Walton County Administrator Larry Jones presented the results of a survey that had been placed on the county website and the TDC website asking participants if they would be in favor of construction of a fishing pier on the Gulf of Mexico that would be available for use by residents and visitors.

The survey had been prompted by a recent citizen request for the question to be placed on a voter referendum. Instead, the BCC directed placement of the survey.

The survey revealed that approximately 51 percent of the 1670 participants were in favor of a gulf fishing pier. It also demonstrated that, of those in favor of a pier, 57.61 percent of the 1,045 people responding to a second question regarding location said they would prefer locating a pier on county-owned property, while other locations were preferred by the following percent of respondents: Grayton Beach State Park – 42.97 percent; Topsail Hill Preserve State Park – 39.23 percent; other state or forestry property – 39.9 percent; and Deer Lake State Park – 27.08 percent.

Administrator Jones commented that the timing for moving forward with a gulf pier “might not be great with everything we have going on on the beach.” He suggested taking another look at the pier possibility at such time as the customary use of the beach issue now before the county is resolved.

District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander was in agreement, particularly considering, as she noted, the results being almost equal for and against among those responding to the survey.

No action was taken to move forward with the matter, although District 2 Commissioner Cecilia Jones observed that it had taken approximately 30 years of effort to get U.S. 331 four-laned and get the bay bridge widened to four lanes. She commented that it would not hurt to keep a pier “in mind” in connection with efforts to obtain property for public beach access and beachgoer parking.

Also at the July 24 meeting, Jay Tusa, TDC executive director, brought up appraisals obtained on beachfront property located on the Eastern Lake outfall that is owned by Peter Russell. Upon a request by Commissioner Jones, the BCC had previously directed the TDC to obtain the appraisals, which were viewed by the BCC but not made public at the time of the meeting.

This is property for which owner Peter Russell obtained a variance reducing the front setback from 20 feet to 0 feet in May 2018 in connection with plans to construct a home.

Tusa offered to proceed with examining what use the TDC and county would be able to make of the parcel and talk with the property owner to see if it would be possible to buy or lease the property for public use.

The commissioners directed him to proceed as he had suggested. Tusa indicated that he would anticipate presenting the results of his research before the BCC within the next couple of regular meetings.