At their October 18, 2018 Regular Meeting, the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners voted 3 to 1 “To direct staff to begin to procure the planning aspect moving forward and utilize the funds that are in the Perdido Key Beach Acquisition Project of $50,000” (minutes available at escambiaclerk.com). This could result in new Perdido Key public beach access at 16400 Perdido Key Drive, the 4-acre beachfront property just east of the Crab Trap Restaurant. District 2 Commissioner Underhill was the lone dissenter following substantial discussion among Commissioners and comments from attendees at the meeting, primarily from those favoring the measure. Creating new public beach access for Perdido Key will be a significant change that owners and residents should follow closely. Additional information on the issue is available in the August 2, 2018 Pensacola News Journal article “Perdido Key beach mouse or parking lot” by Melissa Nelson Gabriel available at pnj.com and the September 25, 2018 Pensacola News Journal article “Three options under consideration for Perdido Key beach access” by Jim Little at pnj.com.
Photo: Charles Krupnick
Hurricane Michael pounded our beach community neighbors to the east with Category 4 winds and storm surge, virtually leveling Mexico Beach while heavily damaging Tyndall Air Force Base, parts of Panama City, Port St. Joe, and other coastal communities, plus Marianna and numerous inland locations up to Virginia. The damage was catastrophic for many, but Perdido Key and most of our local area escaped significant damage. The rapid intensification of the storm as it neared landfall was a lesson for all, however. While many may have intended to ride out a Category 2 Hurricane Michael as it approached the coast, the Category 4/near Category 5 destruction that resulted placed those who stayed behind in grave danger. Perdido Key in Evacuation Zone A was under an evacuation order for the storm that some may not have observed. With the rapid intensification, loss of life and destruction from Hurricane Michael, great caution in the future seems appropriate.
If you wish to help those affected by the storm, Pensacola News Journal October 12, 2018 article “Hurricane Michael donations should be cash – not goods – to vetted agencies” by Melissa Nelson Gabriel at pnj.com provides some guidance.
DoD Photo: Glenn Fawcett
Beach access is a concern for many Florida beach communities, not just Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach, as well as for visitors to the state who want to enjoy Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean beaches. Problems have developed in part because of the growing number of people going to beaches, private ownership of about 60% of Florida beachfront property, and insufficient public beach access and parking. A Florida law passed in March 2018 stated that local governments could not grant beach access to the public using the “customary use” argument as was implemented by Walton County several months ago. The March law is discussed in Pensacola News Journal March 28, 2018 article “Scott signs law affecting public access to many private beaches” by Thaddeus Mast at pnj.com. Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office followed with a clarification discussed in the July 13, 2018 WEAR transcript titled “Florida Governor issues executive order clearing up beach access confusion” by Hannah Mackenzie at weartv.com. US Senator Bill Nelson, the Democratic candidate competing against Governor Scott for the Senate in the November General Election, urged Governor Scott to hold a special legislative session to repeal the law. For more on this issue, see Pensacola News Journal July 28, 2018 article “Nelson wants repeal of beach access law” by Melissa Nelson Gabriel at pnj.com.
The August 28, 2018 Florida Primary Election resulted in the following major party candidates vying for positions in the November 6, 2018 General Election that may be of interest to Perdido Key owners/residents:
Florida US Senator – Rick Scott (R) vs. Bill Nelson (D)
Florida Governor – Ron DeSantis (R) vs. Andrew Gillum (D)
Florida Attorney General – Ashley Moody (R) vs. Sean Shaw (D)
Florida District 1 US Representative – Matt Gaetz (R) vs. Jennifer Zimmerman (D)
Florida District 1 Florida House – Mike Hill (R) vs. Vicki Garrett (D)
Escambia County District 2 Commissioner – Doug Underhill (R) vs. Scott Trotter (D)
Pensacola Mayor – Runoff Election required Grover C. Robinson (R) vs. Brian Spencer (R)
Floridians will decide the fate of 12 proposed Constitutional Amendments in the November 6, 2018 General Election. The document “2018 Constitutional Amendments” at lwvfl.org created by the League of Women Voters of Florida explains the content of the proposed Amendments and indicates the League’s position on each (Amendment 8 discussed in the article was stricken from the ballot by the Florida Supreme Court). Additional information on the Amendments in provided by Pensacola News Journal October 3, 2018 article “A voter’s guide to Florida’s 12 amendments on the 2018 election ballot” by Florida Today Engagement Editor Isadora Rangel available at pnj.com. As a 501(c)(3) organization, PKA does not take positions on political issues and is providing the documents as information resources.
The Sierra Club and other environmental protection groups are suing the Federal Government for the planned lease sale for oil and gas development of most of the available acreage in the Gulf of Mexico, excluding portions subject to Congressional Memorandum (essentially the Florida continental shelf). The suit argues that offshore drilling will occur without “fully analyzing the risks to people, wildlife, and the environment.” For more on this issue, see the Sierra Club July 17, 2018 press release “Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Expansion of Gulf of Mexico Drilling” at sierraclub.org. In a separate offshore oil drilling issue, US government lawyers have filed a case involving Taylor Energy Co. and a drilling platform destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The court filing argues that leakage from site wells is much greater than previously reported, in the range of 10,000 to 30,000 gallons per day and getting worse. For more on this issue, see AP News September 17, 2018 article “Federal lawyers: 2004 Gulf oil leak spills far more than thought” by Jeff Amy and Michael Kunzelman at apnews.com.
As a research follow-up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the University of New Orleans and Owens Coastal Consultants are monitoring the frequency that oil residue is appearing on the Gulf of Mexico shoreline. They have an ongoing project on Dauphin Island and are interesting in beginning one on Perdido Key. Four or five volunteers are needed to measure and sample a number of sites at several week intervals. If interested, please contact PKA president Charles Krupnick at [email protected].
Photo: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
Progress is being made toward realization of a bicycle and pedestrian path along the north side of Perdido Key Drive. The eight foot wide concrete path will be at the ground level, though separate from the roadway, with no boardwalks except in areas where dunes may be impacted. The west portion of the path (from the Alabama state line to the west end of Perdido Key State Park) is fully funded for planning/engineering and construction; planning/engineering is scheduled for completion in November 2018 and construction is scheduled for Fiscal Year 2021. The east portion (from the west end of Perdido Key State Park to Gongora Drive) is fully funded for planning/engineering which is scheduled for completion in July 2019. FDOT does not currently have construction funded though $960,000 of RESTORE (BP penalty) funding has been acquired, with the County working to obtain the remaining funds through grants and other sources. FDOT’s most recent planning level construction cost estimate is $4.5 million.
The Gulf State Park Lodge being built along the beach near where Orange Beach meets Gulf Shores should be open on November 1, 2018. The Lodge (a 350 room Hilton hotel) will be part of a conference center complex that will accommodate up to 1000 people along with “new park enhancements, the Interpretive Center and Learning Campus.” The previous lodge and convention center were destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. For more on the new facility, see the Mullet Wrapper August 29, 2018 article “Gulf State Park Lodge projected opening is Nov. 1” at mulletwrapper.net.
Bruce Beach, the undeveloped land between Joe Patti’s and Blue Wahoos Ballpark, is unlikely to become the site of the Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery & Enhancement Center, but could become a place with improve public access and activities. The City of Pensacola hopes to open public access by fall 2018 and intends to continue seeking grants to improve access and infrastructure. For more on the issue, see the Pensacola News Journal August 23, 2018 article “Pensacola’s Bruce Beach will open to public in fall” by Jim Little at pnj.com.
Three architects from the firm SCAPE were in Pensacola August 20-21, 2018 for a series of lectures and working sessions with local officials and other interested stakeholders to provide ideas for the future of Pensacola. As part of the CivicCom series, the architects noted that, despite being a waterfront community, it was difficult “to actually get to the water” in Pensacola. Gene Wirth, the design principal for SCAPE, added that “… with a couple of tweaks, a couple of street section reconfigurations, bridges, a couple places of road diets and adding more pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure, the waterfront would really be unlocked.” For more on this issue, see the Pensacola News Journal August 21, 2018 article “CivicCom: SCAPE Reimagines Pensacola with bay-side boardwalk, Bluffs greenway” by Kevin Robinson at pnj.com.
The future of the Port of Pensacola has been a matter of substantial discussion for a number of years. With the decline in energy prices, the port is no longer frequently used by drilling support vessels and recently has been operating at a loss. This has led to consideration of changing the port’s historic commercial shipping role to other functions such as recreational boating and/or residential/entertainment/commercial activity. Utah-based Incoa Performance Minerals LLC recently proposed leasing port Warehouses 9 and 10 as material storage facilities. Calcium carbonate from the Dominican Republic would be brought into the port by ship, moved to the warehouses to be processed and then shipped from Pensacola by road and rail. The arrangement could create at least 77 new jobs, make the port solvent and attract more business for the other available areas of the port. Company representatives state that the process will be entirely enclosed so that dust would not escape to the environment. Critics argue that processing bulk minerals is not the high tech future envisioned for Pensacola and the additional traffic in the downtown area (an estimated truck every 20 minutes and 12 rail cars a day) might endanger proposals for a marine research facility and the structure of area historic sites. For more on the issue, see Pensacola News Journal July 28, 2018 article “Incoa wants Port of Pensacola lease approved in 2 weeks: IHMC, UWF say hold on” by Jim Little at pnj.com and WUWF July 24, 2018 story “City to Open Negotiations with Potential Port Tenant” by Dave Dunwoody at wuwf.org.
As hoped for, World Oceans Day 2018 at Perdido Key State Park on June 8, 2018 turned out to be a terrific family affair. The several hundred people attending were able to visit the Discovery Depot touch tank and ocean exhibits provided by the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station, hear presenters and see exhibits on sea turtle conservation, lionfish and diamondback terrapin awareness, and shore and migrating bird concerns. In keeping with the 2018 World Oceans Day emphasis, additional displays and presentations focused on preventing and mitigating plastic pollution of the oceans and other threats to ocean health – such as acidification, eutrophication, and oil spills. Visitors were also able to enjoy the sand sculptures of The Paradise Sandman (David Robertson), the colorful kites flown by the Emerald Coast Kite Flyers, and a visit by Monty the screech owl from the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida. With clear and balmy weather on the beach, all seemed to enjoy the entertaining and educational event.
As coordinated worldwide by The Ocean Project, “World Oceans Day is a global day of ocean celebration and collaboration for a better future.” Co-sponsors of the Perdido Key State Park event were the Perdido Key Association, the Friends of Pensacola State Parks, Florida State Parks, and Visit Pensacola – with additional support provided by the Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce, Mullet Wrapper, Audubon Society and Sea Grant personnel, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Perdido Key Souvenirs & More, Tina Morrison (promoter) and the Department of Biology at the University of West Florida.
Contractors have completed planting sea oats and other native vegetation to the 6 miles of Perdido Key beach dunes from the Alabama border to the eastern edge of the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf islands National Seashore. The over 400,000 plants added to the dunes should enhance coastal resiliency and improve the ability of the beaches to resist storm damage. The project was coordinated by Escambia County officials and paid for through the National Resource Damage Assessment (a post-Deepwater Horizon oil spill funding source). The project was able to move forward because of participation from 90% of Perdido Key Gulf-front property owners. As always and particularly with the new plantings, we should stay off the dunes and “leave no trace” on the beach.
After a long delay, ferry service has begun on Pensacola Bay. Administered by the National Park Service in partnership with the City of Pensacola and Escambia County, the two 149 passenger ferries are now shuttling passengers from downtown Pensacola to Pensacola Beach and Ft. Pickens. Named the Turtle Runner and Pelican Perch, the ferries are operated by Gulf Coast Maritime Services, Inc. and travel in opposite directions for the convenience of passengers. They will operate daily from May 14 until August 16 and weekends-only from March 15 to May 14 and August 16 to October 31; service will be from 8:30 AM until 10:00 PM. Ferry service dates, prices, and other information are available at Pensacola News Journal June 26, 2018 article “Pensacola Ferry Schedule and Prices: What you Need to Know” by Maria Gabriel Mathews at pnj.com and from the City of Pensacola at cityofpensacola.com. (Photo: NPS/Rainey)
Negotiations between Escambia County and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) could result in the county assuming responsibility for Perdido Key drive while FDOT would take over a section of Beulah Road. According to the Pensacola News Journal May 21, 2018 article “Escambia County in talks with state to swap control of Perdido Key Drive with Beulah Road” by Jim Little: “The purpose of the swap would be to allow for quicker construction of a new interchange with Beulah Road and Interstate 10, and allow the county to better implement the Perdido Key Master Plan.” District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill reportedly said he would support the idea as long as it “doesn’t jeopardize state funding for the Perdido Key bike path or would slow down repairs to the road following hurricanes.” To access the article, go to pnj.com.
Faced with erosion on their waterfront property owners can erect a seawall of some sort (concrete, riprap, etc.) or pursue a “living shoreline.” Using “marsh seedlings and bags of oyster shells,” one owner reported after a few years that “crabs and snails crawl among the oysters and grasses” while “fish school in it when the tide is up”; moreover, “sand is being trapped in the yard when storms and floods hit instead of being washed away.” For more on living shorelines, see the Pensacola News Journal July 15, 2018 article “Living Shorelines Rise in popularity among Northwest Florida homeowners” by John Upton at pnj.com.
The blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) and the red tide organism (karenia brevis) are taking a toll on Gulf Coast wildlife from Sarasota to Naples. The outbreak of blue-green algae began in Lake Okeechobee and spread to Gulf of Mexico waters. The red tide bloom in the region has grown and killed large numbers of sea birds, fish, and numerous sea turtles, while also causing a noxious odor along beaches in the region. Authorities note that dead creatures on the beaches are only a small fraction of the total casualties since most sink to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. A hazard advisory was issued for humans who have respiratory issues. For more on the current problems, see the Orlando Sentinel July 10, 2018 article “Blue-green algae, red tide soil beaches, threaten Florida tourism” by Jennifer Kay (Associated Press) at orlandosentinel.com; for more on blue-green algae, see The Conversation July 19, 2016 article “Why toxic algae blooms like Florida’s are so dangerous to people and wildlife” by Ernst B. Peebles at theconversation.com.
Beach Vitex on Perdido Key – Beach Vitex is an invasive species that can crowd out native plants. It has been a particular concern in beach areas of the Carolinas and is now working its way into Florida. For the first time, as far as PKA is aware, it has been found on Perdido Key. The plant provides ground cover and has woody runners and purple flowers. If detected, please contact the Escambia County Sea Grant Representative Rick O’Connor at [email protected] for assistance in identification and removal. See the March 2, 2017 University of Florida IFAS Extension article “Trying to Stay Ahead of Beach Vitex” by Rick O’Connor for more information.
On February 1, 2018, the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners approved District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill’s request to set aside funds for the “Pensacola Pass Inlet Management Plan.” The plan could lead to a policy where the sand dredged from the Pensacola Harbor channel – which is required periodically to keep the channel navigable for large ships – would be dumped on the beaches of the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore instead of offshore as is the current practice. With the general westerly migration of sand in the region, Perdido Key beaches west of the National Seashore would also benefit from the project.
With funding for a study assigned (more is needed from the state), putting substance on the proposal will begin with meetings of various stake holders, such as the National Seashore, Navy Installations Command, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Port of Pensacola – PKA may also be invited to participate. When implemented, Perdido Key beaches will not quickly leave the critically eroded status so concerns for further erosion and from destructive storms will remain, but hopefully in the coming year’s progress will be made.
In keeping with its education purpose, the Perdido Key Association contributed to an upgrade of the interpretive wayside panels near the Perdido Key Discovery Trail at the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore (Johnson Beach). PKA Director Joe Stone worked closely with Gulf Island National Seashore Visual Information Specialist Brent Everett in helping to bring the project to fruition. The December 8, 2017 “Gulf Islands News” release stated (in part):
Several interpretive wayside panels were recently upgraded and installed at the national seashore’s Perdido Key Area thanks to the Perdido Key Association (PKA). The wayside panels and some associated hardware had weathered badly since it was first installed. The PKA approached the National Park Service earlier this year to provide financial support for the upgrade. ‘We are grateful to the Perdido Key Association for their generous donation in support of the national seashore,” said Superintendent Dan Brown. “Interpretive wayside panels are a critical tool of the National Park Service to share the important stories of the national seashore.” At Perdido Key these waysides interpret the natural beauty and dynamic wildlife of the area, provide trail guidance and safety reminders, and tell the story of important figures like Rosamond Johnson.
The Perdido Key Association held its 2018 Annual Membership Meeting on Saturday, February 24, 2018 at the Eden Condominium on Perdido Key. Featured speaker Steve Hayes, President of “Visit Pensacola,” discussed the many tourist marketing initiatives made by his organization and noted that successful tourism promotion required evaluating and effectively using data on visitor preferences and activities. He indicated that Perdido Key should strive for a high quality visitor experience and not necessarily for increasing the number of tourists. With new air routes and greater recognition of the area’s many attractions, the future of tourism in the Pensacola region seemed bright.
District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill followed and addressed several issues affecting Perdido Key, such as the Helipad – back in operation; Perdido Key Multi-Use Path – design work in progress and construction to begin in the months ahead; Pensacola Pass Inlet Management Plan – study approved by the Board of County Commissioners that should lead to a process where sand dredged from Pensacola Pass would be deposited on the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and be available for migration to the rest of Perdido Key; Perdido Key Dune Restoration Project – sea oat and other plantings should begin in a few weeks; and, underground utilities on Perdido Key – likely only through MSBU (Municipal Service Benefit Unit) funding.
The speakers’ presentations and responses to questions were much appreciated by the audience. PKA president Charles Krupnick then reported on the 2017 PKA initiatives, including International Coastal Cleanup Day and World Oceans Day events at Perdido Key State Park and the Association’s funding of upgrade to three “interpretive wayside panels” at the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. An unapproved version of the meeting minutes is posted on the Archive page of this website.