Gorgeous weather favored the PKA co-sponsored World Oceans Day Event on Saturday June 10, 2017 at Perdido Key State Park. Many families learned more about our endangered oceans from the several exhibits on display, including information on plastic pollution, the lionfish threat, shore bird and nesting turtle precautions, and invasive plant species. The event also featured a beach cleanup and children’s sand sculpture competition and was highlighted by a visit from Maverick (the Ice Flyers mascot), enormous colorful kites flying overhead, and a wonderful stopover by a screech owl from the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida. Co-sponsored by the Friends of Pensacola State Parks and Florida State Park Rangers, the event was enjoyable for all and well covered by the Mullet Wrapper, the Pensacola News Journal and WEAR Channel 3.
Two articles in the Pensacola News Journal reflected continuing discussions on land use in Pensacola Beach. The June 28, 2017 article “Gaetz bill for private ownership advances in Congress” by Melissa Nelson Gabriel noted the Gaetz bill that “would allow local beach leaseholders to exchange their 99-year leases for property deeds” has been endorsed by the House Committee on Natural Resources.” The bill would also “put control of development on area beaches in the hands of local county government.” The June 29, 2017 article “Pensacola Beach leaders look at changing home-building rules to allow double lots” (also by Ms. Gabriel) noted that Santa Rosa Island Authority officials were considering “changing a long-standing rule prohibiting builders from combining residential lots to create larger homes.”
Plastic straws are a common item found during beach cleanup efforts in Northwest Florida. According to Barbara Mozur of Ocean Hour Florida, “The sifters on the beach don’t pick them up, and they’re one of the top items we always find. They’re clear sometimes and hard to see and get bent and buried in the sand.” Ocean Hour is asking consumers to refuse straws when offered and is “in talks with local restaurants in an effort to reduce straw-related litter.” For more on this issue, see the July 3, 2017 Pensacola News Journal article by Troy Moon “Ocean Hour wants you to say “no” to straws.”
The Perdido Key Multi-Use Path and Perdido Key Gulf of Mexico Public Access are two of the 10 projects included in a draft plan for Escambia County’s first direct request for RESTORE Act funds. “Congress passed the RESTORE Act to ensure all fees and fines BP paid the federal government for the 2010 oil spill would go to help the Gulf coast region,” according to the June 8, 2017 Pensacola News Journal article “Escambia County wants comments on RESTORE Act Projects” by Jim Little. A 45 day period began on June 1, 2017 during which the public can comment on the proposals, after which the RESTORE Staff will review and incorporate the meaningful comments into the RESTORE Act Multi-Year Implementation Plan (MYIP). The deadline for comments is July 19, 2017 with the “Draft RESTORE Act Multiyear Implementation Plan” available at myescambia.com. The Pensacola News Journal article can be accessed at pnj.com.
In the 2015 Perdido Key Property Owner Survey, 77.4% of those responding believed that Perdido Key needed a separate off-road bicycle/pedestrian path. The Perdido Key Association has strongly advocated the construction of a multi-use path parallel to but separate from Perdido Key Drive in written documents and testimony before various government agencies. With the support of County officials, including District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill, the path is well on its way to becoming a reality. But a significant funding gap remains: funding for “design and engineering” has been allocated or planned for the entire path, but funding for “construction” has only been assigned for the portion of the path from the Alabama border to the Perdido Key State Park entrance. That is, there is no funding currently planned for construction from the Perdido Key State Park entrance to Gongora Drive (i.e., the Theo Barrs Bridge). The $960,000 requested under the RESTORE program would help construct this portion of the path. The Perdido Key Gulf of Mexico Public Access project also included in the Draft MYIP Plan would provide $147,600 to plan and design beach access improvements on the Key, including dune crossovers, habitat protection and better access for those with disabilities.
If you would like to comment on the RESTORE projects, you can do so at the County’s website at myescambia.com; by email to email@example.com; by regular mail to “Attention – Escambia County Natural Resources Management, RESTORE, 221 Palafox Place, Pensacola, FL 32502”; or, by phone at 850 595-0820.
CIG, a turtle made from cigarette butts, and CAP, a dolphin made from plastic bottles and bottle caps, will be on display at the Perdido Key Visitors Center for several weeks. Both are exotic works of art created by local artist/marine biologist Shelly Marshall and reminders of the harm that trash left on our beaches and discarded in the oceans can do to wildlife. As cited in the June 19, 2017 issue of Time and highlighted by UN Secretary General António Guterres, the weight of plastic trash in the oceans is expected to exceed the weight of fish by 2050!
The Amphitheatre at Big Lagoon State Park is hosting a summer concert series. Grayson Capps appeared on June 3, 2017, but you can still catch performances by Sugarcane Jane on July 1 and Willie Sugarcapps on August 5. Tickets are $15, rain or shine, with a cash bar available. The proceeds benefit the Friends of Pensacola State Parks – a Community Support Organization that helps to maintain and improve Perdido Key area state parks.
Following negotiations between the federal government’s Department of Commerce (which overseas federal fisheries) and the fishery managers of five states, the federal red snapper season has been extended beyond the three day period originally established. As reported in the article “Deal expanding recreational red snapper season panned by environmentalists, charter industry” by Ledyard King and Chris Phillips on June 15, 2017 in the USA Today Network: “The new rule will re-open the 2017 Federal recreational season for red snapper by private anglers on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from June 16, 2017, through Labor Day, September 4, 2017. No fishing will be permitted Monday through Thursday with the exception of July 3, July 4, and September 4. Correspondingly, the five Gulf States will align the red snapper season in their waters with the federal water season for the rest of the summer.” For more on the issues, go to pnj.com.
The Bantam Strategy Group is reportedly planning to establish a bike-share program in downtown Pensacola and Pensacola Beach in 2018 with a fleet of at least 200 bicycles and 20 stations. It would be one of the first such efforts on the Gulf Coast, though there are bike share programs in over 45 cities in North and South America. With funding and pricing to be determined, users will be able to pick up the GPS-equipped bikes at one location and drop them off at another. For more on this issue, see The Pulse June 14, 2017 article by Drew Buchanan “Bike Sharing Program to Launch in Pensacola in 2018” at pulsegulfcoast.com.
Construction of the $240 million South Baldwin County OWA project is proceeding apace, with the amusement park portion set to open in late-July 2017. The current phase of the project also includes a hotel, retail and dining options, and an artificial lake. Plans call for expanding the facility to include a waterpark, additional hotels, a condominium project, and an RV park. For more on Owa, see The Pulse June 11, 2017 article “New Gulf Coast Amusement Park on Track for July Opening” by Derek Cosson at pulsegulfcoast.com.
The cost of a lifetime Senior Pass to our National Parks is currently $10 for citizens aged 62 and older, but the price will increase to $80 in the near future. According to the May 17, 2017 article “Time is running out for seniors to get $10 lifetime pass to national parks” by Weldon B. Johnson in USA Today, Congress approved a fee increase in December 2016 with proceeds to be used to fund “park projects and services.” The date of the fee increase has not been determined. To view the article, go to usatoday.com.
On May 1, 2017, Escambia County entered into an agreement with ECUA whereby ECUA would assume the County’s recycling needs. For Perdido Key residents, this means that the recycling drop-off facility behind the Escambia County Sheriff’s Precinct 2 location on Gulf Beach Highway just past the Winn Dixie plaza (called the Baars Softball Field location in the recycling directive) is again open for business – now with new recycling containers (see photo). The Escambia County directive on the topic, located at myescambia.com, provides the location of all recycling drop-off sites and the material that can and cannot be recycled. Note that glass is among the material that can be recycled.
According to the Pensacola News Journal May 22, 2017 article “New Perdido Key development set for 2019” by Joseph Baucum, developers have closed on the property and are set to begin construction of The Meridian condominium at 14009 Perdido Key Drive in fourth quarter 2017, with completion in late-2019. According to Curt Boisfontaine, CEO of Meridian Realty Advisors, as cited in the article: "This project is much different than anything that’s been developed on Perdido Key to date." "If you look at the front of the building, you see that a lot of attention was put into designing a very modern, current building that had architectural significance. We’re very proud of that." Prices for the 41 units of the condominium begin at $1.25 million, with the development reportedly 40% pre-sold. To view the article, go to pnj.com.
The Annual Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day held on May 20-21, 2017 in downtown Pensacola was a considerable success with an estimated five thousand visitors viewing the many exhibits on display. In the spear fishing tournament associated with the event, a total of 6043 lionfish were submitted – with one diver turning in 451! Though the event on May 21 was marred by rainfall, attendees were able to taste lionfish and certainly made aware of the threat the fish posed to the Florida Panhandle. For more on Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day and other marine issues, click here.
Lionfish are not just a problem in the Gulf of Mexico, but are also moving into local estuaries such as Perdido Bay, Escambia Bay, and Mobile Bay. According to research done by University of West Florida student Amy Brower, traces of lionfish DNA have been found in these and other areas indicating that lionfish can survive in waters with lower salinity than the Gulf. For more on this issue, see The Pulse article “UWF Research Shows Invasive Lionfish are Moving into Local Estuaries.” (Photo courtesy of NOAA)
Beach vitex is an invasive plant species that could threaten beach dunes in Northwest Florida. It has become a significant problem along beaches in North and South Carolina and in recent years has been spotted on Pensacola Beach and Perdido Bay, though not yet on Perdido Key beaches. If identified, contact a Sea Grant extension office or appropriate government official. For more on the issue, see “NISAW 2016 – Beach Vitex in the Florida Panhandle” and “Invasive Species – Beach Vitex,” both by Rick O’Connor, and the June 15 2016 article “Pensacola battles invasive beach vitex plant” by Melissa Nelson Gabriel in the Pensacola News Journal. (Photo by Forest & Kim Starr, Starr Environmental, Bugwood.org).
With hurricane season beginning on June 1, we are all advised to take stock of our preparations for these dangerous storms. The Pensacola News Journal in its May 28, 2017 edition published a handy guide and Escambia County has a number of resources on its website, including the page titled “Tropical Storms and Hurricanes" at myescambia.com with links to other resources. As PKA members undoubtedly know, now is the best time to prepare for these incredible natural events.
According to personnel at the Perdido Key Visitors Center, passes to return to property owned on Perdido Key after a hurricane are no longer being issued. To regain entry for future storms after an evacuation, owners will need to visit the closest FEMA station and show a local drivers license or other proof of ownership of Perdido Key property. The FEMA station will then issue appropriate instructions on when and how to gain access to the Key and property.
Commissioner Underhill, first elected as Escambia County District 2 Commissioner in 2014 and the current chair of the Board of County Commissioners, has filed the necessary paperwork to run for re-election in 2018. As reported by The Pulse, he stated that “We are looking forward to a campaign on the issues that are important to District 2 and Escambia County.” Escambia County resident Alan McMillan has also entered the campaign for District 2 Commissioner. He has served as Vice Chairman of the Escambia County Restore Committee and as a member of the Escambia County Mass Transit Advisory Committee. Both Underhill and McMillan are Republicans; no Democrat has yet filed to run for the position. For more on this issue, see The Pulse article ”Escambia County Commissioner Underhill files for re-election.”
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced that $217,000 of RESTORE funding would come to the Pensacola area to be used for shoreline improvement in Pensacola Bay. See Pensacola News Journal article “More BP oil spill money headed here” at pnj.com.
The Florida legislature has moved closer to transferring $300 million is Triumph funding to the eight Northwest Florida counties, including Escambia and Santa Rosa, most affected by the 2010 Oil Spill disaster. As indicated in the May 1, 2017 article “Senate Approves $300 M Panhandle Triumph Bill” in the Pensacola News Journal by Joseph Baucumb, much of the funding seems earmarked for economic development projects. For more on the issue, go to pnj.com.
Sea Grant has a 50 year history of providing research and education to the Pensacola area on issues such as fisheries, seafood safety, estuary health, and climate adaptation. The current Administration’s budget proposal would effectively eliminate the program, though congressional approval is still needed. Concerned citizens can of course become engaged with the country’s budgetary process.
Rosamond Johnson was honored for his heroism during the Korean War in a May 6, 2017 ceremony at the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. On July 26, 1950, he carried two wounded soldiers to safety but was killed while trying to save a third – he was the first person from Pensacola to die in the Korean War. An African-American, he was posthumously award the Purple Heart for wounds but was not recognized with any honors for valor; according to The Pulse article “No Greater Sacrifice: The Neglected Valor of Rosamond Johnson” by Dr. Eurydice Stanley, it was “a painful insult that continues to impact his loved ones.” The article stated, however, that the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which had previously been called Rosamond Johnson Beach, would receive new signage reading “Rosamond Johnson Beach at Perdido Key Area.” For more on the ceremony, go to pulsegulfcoast.com.
At its April 6, 2017 regular meeting, the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners approved a recommendation to complete all necessary County requirements to purchase the beach front parcel at 14777 Perdido Key Drive that might provide additional public beach access. The property is between Beach Access #3 and the east end of Perdido Key State Park near where River Road meets Perdido Key Drive. The purchase would expand the beach access and parking available for day use of our wonderful Perdido Key beaches.
With agreement from 84% of beachfront property owners, Escambia County will be going forward with the Perdido Key Dune Restoration Project to plant sea oats and other appropriate vegetation on Perdido Key dunes. Planting should begin in November 2017. On its website, the County has thanked participating owners and noted that it can now receive funding for the project. Beach front property owners who have not signed up can still do so. If interested, please check out the program at myescambia.com or contact Matt Posner (firstname.lastname@example.org / 850 595-0820).
The Perdido Key Association (PKA) held its 2017 Annual Membership Meeting on Saturday, February 25, 2017, at the Eden Condominium. Special guests included District 2 Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill and Sea Grant Extension Agent Rick O’Connor. Mr. O’Connor said a few words about Sea Grant and its environmental initiatives and also introduced CIG, a sea turtle model made from 1200 cigarette butts collected from a local beach (lower photo).
Featured speaker Superintendent Daniel Brown of the Gulf Islands National Seashore spoke about the challenges facing the Park Service and the National Seashore (top photo). The current hiring freeze and likelihood of federal budget cuts may put a strain on services. He discussed recent issues at the Perdido Key Area of the National Seashore, including a ban on primitive camping because of trash and equipment left behind and inappropriate personal behavior. He noted that in the coming years the current practice of parking along Johnson Beach Road will be ended and that parking will be shifted to dedicated lots with new and higher dune crossovers.
Superintendent Brown also discussed the Army Corps of Engineers practice of dumping sand dredged from Pensacola Harbor to Gulf waters beyond where the sand could assist in Perdido Key beach renourishment. While placing it closer to the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore was tried at one time, it was more expensive than dumping the sand at sea – noting that the Corps of Engineers has been under congressional mandate to minimize expenses. Commissioner Underhill and members of the audience engaged in further discussions on this topic since dumping sand from dredging has been offered as one the alternatives to beach renourishment for Perdido Key beaches – along with dune renourishment. Commissioner Underhill indicated he was working to ensure the dredged sand was dumped where it would do the most good. Superintendent Brown’s presentation provided an excellent alternative perspective on the issues facing beach communities like Perdido Key and was much appreciated by those in attendance. A copy of the unapproved minutes of the meeting is posted in the Archive page of this website.
As issues of continuing interest, PKA summary articles on beach renourishment and underground utilities for Perdido Key are filed in the Archives page of this website. They will be updated as developments emerge on these issues.
A temporary stand down of the Perdido Key Helipad was ordered by the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners in September 2016 while issues such as needed reviews and inspections were completed. According to Escambia County officials, since that time several administrative actions and procedural changes have been taken and alterations made at the facility. These include implementing weekly inspections, revised approach and departure routes, and additions and changes to various markings and warning devices. While modifications to the facility should be completed shortly, obtaining final registration and site approval from FDOT is likely still several months away.