Ft. Walton Beach residents tell environmental secretary, Okaloosa officials to stop beach restoration

Jun 1, 2011

The following article was published in the Northwest Florida Daily News on June 1, 2011:

Residents tell environmental secretary, Okaloosa officials to stop beach restoration

By Tom McLaughlin

Okaloosa County officials looked slightly shocked Wednesday afternoon when Florida’s new environmental secretary arrived with beach restoration opponents on his heels.

Herschel Vinyard didn’t bring the Okaloosa Island residents with him, but tipped off that the new head man at the Department of Environmental Protection was in town, about 20 people showed up eager to have a word.

That everyone arrived at the county commissioners’ office in Fort Walton Beach at the same time was probably not at coincidence, but it sure took Commission Chairman James Campbell by surprise.

“The only thing I knew was that the secretary was coming through town. I thought he wanted to stop by and say hello,” Campbell said later.

The residents wanted to talk to Vinyard, and probably Campbell, about why they don’t want the county to put new sand — inferior sand, they contend — on the beach outside of their homes.

Two island residents have taken the county to court to stop the restoration. The case has been heard by an administrative law judge and a ruling is pending.

The litigation is why Campbell, with Vinyard to his left and the island residents to his right, bowed out of any conversations.

“Our lawyers said no way,” he told those gathered outside his office.

Vinyard, accompanied by several staff members and state Rep. Matt Gaetz — who told the renourishment opponents about the secretary’s visit — also declined to address restoration questions until after he had met with Campbell in private.

Everything seemed to work itself out following the meeting. Vinyard, with Matt Gaetz and his father, state Sen. Don Gaetz, agreed to listen to the residents’ grievances.

“I am yet to find one person who lives on the island who supports beach restoration,” longtime resident John Dezzutto told Vinyard.

Residents said their beaches are fine and that they do not need renourishing. Dezzutto aired his theory that the county’s restoration plan is not based on sound policy but on politics.

“This is the only way they could get sand for Destin, to have a bigger problem,” he said.

David and Lynn Chandley, who live in Atlanta but own property on Okaloosa Island, said they decided to buy in Florida rather than Georgia because the sand is superior here.

“What it boils down to is the renourishment of Okaloosa Island is just not needed,” David Chandley said. “My tax dollars are just not being well used putting sand on Okaloosa Island.”

Vinyard and a staff member spoke briefly about the way the state prioritizes beach renourishment projects. The secretary said he believed his department still has money to do some renourishment work if required.

After the meeting Campbell refuted the claim that every resident on Okaloosa Island opposes renourishment.

“For everyone that opposes there’s another that supports,” he said. “We’ve fought this battle before. Why we’re talking about this again I have no idea.”

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