The September 16 cleanup of Perdido Key beaches and river front was a great success! With good weather helping out, about 50 volunteers spent their Saturday mornings picking up cigarette butts, plastic bags, paper cups, and other material – some hard to identify – that littered our beautiful waterfront. The beaches were not in too bad a shape, but the grooming they received will be appreciated by all who enjoy these wonderful assets. In addition, two kayaks and a jon boat gathered trash from the marshy Old River side of Perdido Key. The cleanup was cosponsored by the Perdido Key Association, the Friends of Pensacola State Parks, and Florida State Park rangers from Big Lagoon/Perdido Key State Park. The quantity and type of trash collected will be reported to the Ocean Conservancy, the coordinating body for this international event, and will become part of the International Coastal Cleanup Day annual report. Thanks to all who helped make the cleanup a noteworthy environmental event for Perdido Key.
Perdido Key was again spared by a major hurricane as Irwin stayed a couple hundred miles to our east and north. Along with the terrible damage caused by Hurricane Harvey to our west, 2017 has thus far been an active and devastating year for hurricane-caused damage along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
If you would like to help victims of Hurricane Irma, the September 12, 2017 Pensacola News Journal article "If you're in Pensacola, what can you do to help with Hurricane Irma recovery?" listed the United Way, the Salvation Army, and the American Red Cross as organizations accepting monetary donations for victims of Irma. There is also a critical need for blood donations because of the storm. Oneblood on Davis Hwy (the BigRedBus) has exhausted its supply of blood because of Hurricane Harvey and now needs donations for victims of Hurricane Irma. For more information, go to oneblood.org.
With new Hurricane Maria making its way across the Atlantic and other systems possible in the coming weeks, vigilance is still needed. Here is a short list of issues for you to consider:
1. Perdido Key is in Evacuation Zone A which means early evacuation once directed by local Emergency Management officials.
2. Evacuation Routes can be found at myescambia.com and are pretty much what you would expect – major roads heading away from the Gulf.
3. Escambia County provides a checklist of what preparations to make for evacuation at myescambia.com.
4. The nearest hurricane shelter to Perdido Key is the Jim Bailey Middle School on Brauer Road. A complete list of shelters is available at myescambia.com.
5. Rules for reentry following an evacuation have changed and passes are no longer being issued. For full time residents of Perdido Key, a Drivers License (among other documents with picture ID) will work; for those with Perdido Key as a second home or rental, documents that connect owners with property on Perdido Key – such as utility bills, property tax statements, or rental agreements – will be needed. A list of acceptable documents is contained in Appendix K of the Escambia County Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan.
A number of Perdido Key construction and development related issues have occurred in recent months. Among them:
The La Vista condominium will be built on the beachfront property immediately to the east of the Perdido Key State Park.
On August 3, 2017, the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners approved a request from developer GPD to vacate the right of way on its portion of Semmes Street, a currently dead-ended road off River Road. The land is adjacent to the GPD’s Perdido Gardens that will be constructed along Gardenglen Drive, a road beginning on River Road to the north of Semmes Street.
Construction is on-going for a parking garage on the north side of Perdido Key Drive to service the La Riva condominium complex on the Gulf side of the road.
WCI, the developer of the Lost Key Resort complex on Perdido Key, is now “A Lennar Company” as the result of a September 2016 buyout agreement. Miami-based Lennar Corporation is the second largest homebuilding in the United States and a Fortune 500 company. For more on the transaction, go to bloomberg.com.
Beginning in mid-September, the Eden Condominium on Perdido Key will host 25 wounded American military veterans and their families for a week-long vacation. Many Eden owners donate their Units in this fourth year of the program. Other area businesses, individuals, and the USO have become involved and made varying contributions, including meals and gift cards. Additional contributions are welcome. If you would like to help, please contact the Eden at 850 492-3336 or [email protected]; for additional information on the program, go to www.edencondominiums.com.
Traffic delays in the vicinity of the Flora-Bama seem greater this summer, at least according to complaints from a number of PKA members. With recent accidents on Perdido Key Drive as well, some improvement may be forthcoming. While awaiting the approval of Escambia County planners and the end of the summer tourist season, the changes (as mentioned by Flora-Bama co-owner John McInnis and District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill in the referenced article) will likely include turn lanes, crosswalk improvements, eliminating some entrances and exits, and funneling parking traffic in a one-way direction. See Pensacola News Journal July 25, 2017 article by Melissa Nelson Gabriel “Flora-Bama, Escambia County try to improve traffic flow, pedestrian safety.”
At the September 7, 2017 Escambia County Board of County Commissioners meeting, Commissioners voted in favor of forwarding ten priority projects to the US Treasury for RESTORE funding – including the Perdido Key Gulf of Mexico Beach Access and Perdido Key Multi-Use Path proposals. This final approval by Commissioners incorporated the required public comments. Of the 349 received, 16 written public comments concerned the Perdido Key Beach Access project and 19 the Perdido Key Multi-Use Path; the vast majority addressed the Carpenter Creek and Bayou Texar Economic and Environmental Revitalization Plan. To review the public comments, go to myescambia.com.
As designated by the August 2016 report “Critically Eroded Beaches in Florida” by the Division of Water Resource Management under the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Perdido Key beaches are critically eroded. With proposed beach renourishment (depositing off-shore sand on the beaches) in a “holding pattern,” two means of strengthening Perdido Key beachfront have been pursued by Escambia County leadership, in particular Environmental Programs Manager Tim Day and District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill. One is the Perdido Key Dune Restoration Project approved earlier this year after receiving the go-ahead from over 80% of beachfront property owners. Using BP restitution funds resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, sea oats and other appropriate vegetation to hold dunes in place will be planted on Perdido Key beginning in November 2017.
The other initiative is to have sand dredged by the US Army Corps of Engineers from Pensacola Harbor channel – which is currently dumped offshore – deposited on the Johnson Beach/Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Because the natural migration of sand on this portion of the Gulf coast is from east to west, the Pensacola Harbor channel disrupts and traps sand that had previously renourished Perdido Key beaches. By depositing sand dredged from the channel on National Seashore beaches, the “natural” renourishment of the rest of Perdido Key beaches could begin again.
While seemingly a common sense solution, its implementation is surprisingly complex. An update provided by Commissioner Underhill emphasized that the “Pensacola Pass Inlet Management Plan” would be one of the primary legislative initiatives for Escambia County in the 2018 State Legislative session. The implementation of the plan will involve coordination with numerous government and private stakeholders and, crucially, the allocation of sufficient funds to plan and execute the dredging on a “schedule and methodology” most beneficial to the beaches concerned. He anticipates rolling out the initiative by the end of 2017.
A nice crowd was on hand Monday, July 24, 2017 for a first look at the new Sacred Heart Perdido Medical Park on Sorrento Road near the Gulf Beach Highway intersection. Those attending could tour the new patient areas, view the imaging equipment, and admire the expansive physical and occupational therapy area on the second floor. The therapy area opened for patients the next day, with the rest of the facility in operation on August 1, 2017. At the same time, construction continues on the West Florida Healthcare Perdido Bay Emergency Room at the corner of Rt. 98 and Blue Angel Parkway. The two facilities will make substantial contributions to healthcare availability in the Perdido Key area.
Work to upgrade the Helipad at the Perdido Key Fire Station has been completed and, according to District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill, it is now fully compliant with applicable regulations and inspections. The Helipad will be reopened following a 45 day public input period. Commissioner Underhill plans on holding a town hall meeting at the reopening to discuss “the deficiencies, the actions taken, and explain once again why the safety stand-down was prudent and needed.”
The OWA amusement park in Foley, Alabama has officially opened its first phase of development, which includes multiple rides and other attractions. More information on the park is available at visitowa.com and in various articles from local media on the opening.
Photo from Pensacola News Journal July 21, 2017 article by Julie Diaz “Amusement park opening in Foley marks start of massive resort complex."
Frontier Airlines will provide non-stop service between Pensacola and Denver, Colorado beginning in spring 2018. Denver is the airline’s major hub and should provide more options for travelers using Pensacola International Airport. For more on the issue, see The Pulse July 18, 2017 article “Frontier Airlines, Denver nonstop coming to Pensacola International Airport” by Derek Cosson at pulsegulfcoast.com.
Numerous recent articles discuss a possible return of Amtrakpassenger rail service to Pensacola and the rest of the northern Gulf Coast– i.e., from New Orleans to Jacksonville/Orlando. The service ended in 2005 as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Debate on restoration centers on federal government rules for on-time service (drawbridge crossings for train traffic in the region make this problematic) and the substantial cost of rail line upgrades to support service. Organizations and groups, such as the Federal Railroad Administration and the Southern Rail Commission, are hopeful that solutions can be found. The July 23, 2017 article “Amtrak’s Pensacola restoration demands funding options, advocates say” by Joseph Baucum in the Pensacola New Journal is available here; the July 17, 2017 article “Amtrak co-CEO optimistic about restoring service to Gulf Coast” by Jim Little in the Pensacola News Journal is available here.
Photo from NorthEscambia.com November 18, 2016 article “Amtrak Service Could Return; Senator Wants Your Opinion.”
Retired Naval officer Phil Ehr has announced plans to run against current Congressman Matt Gaetz for the Florida District One (includes Perdido Key) seat in the US House of Representatives in the 2018 election. Though previously a Republican, Mr. Ehr will participate in the election as a Democrat. The Pulse article “Retired naval officer Ehr announces congressional campaign” by Derek Cosson is available at pulsegulfcoast.com.
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.”
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!
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.
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.”
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 ([email protected] / 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.