To help prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus, at its Friday, March 20, 2020, Special Meeting the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) decided to close Escambia County public beaches, including those on Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach. Gulf Islands National Seashore and the Perdido Key State Park have closed as well. The beach closure will last at least until the next scheduled BOCC meeting on April 2, 2020. More information about the County closure decision can be found at myescambia.com and in the March 20, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Pensacola Beach to close through April 2” by Jim Little at pnj.com.
As a reminder to be hopeful and appreciative in this strange and difficult time, under dreary skies the morning after the beaches were closed a rainbow could be seen over the Old River.
The Perdido Key Association held its Annual Membership Meeting on February 29, 2020 at the Eden Condominium. Guest speaker Dr. Alissa Deming, the Staff Veterinarian with the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network based on Dauphin Island, provided a very informed and interesting presentation on the health of the Gulf Coast bottlenose dolphin population. She pointed out that the current dolphin Unusual Mortality Event could be related to increased fresh water in local areas from the past year’s weather events. She also noted that the health of dolphins, as the region’s top oceanic predator, can be a good indicator of the overall health of the ecosystem they inhabit. PKA president Charles Krupnick followed with updates of a number of Perdido Key issues, such as progress on the Perdido Key Multi-Use Path and Perdido Key Master Plan. He also covered PKA initiatives and particularly the soon-to-be distributed 2020 Perdido Key Property Owner Survey – noting the cost challenges of the project. Approximately 40 people attended the meeting and seemed to appreciate the information provided.
The Escambia County Board of County Commissioners gave its final approval to Amendment #1to the RESTORE Act Direct Component Multi-Year Implementation Plan at its February 20, 2020 meeting. The Amendment raises RESTORE funding for the Perdido Key Multi-Use Path from $960,000 to $4.5 million, which should be sufficient to complete the project. Final approval by the US Treasury is still required and may be received by about July 1, 2020, after which contracts can be negotiated and construction started – perhaps as early as September 2020.
The new Innerarity Point Park is sure to be a family favorite with “an ADA-accessible boardwalk as well as a dock for fishing and paddle crafts, covered pavilions, two playgrounds, restrooms and parking.” A grand opening is expected in the near future. Park completion has been accompanied by controversy regarding plans for the redevelopment of the Galvez Landing Public Boat Ramp nearby. For more on the issue, see the February 25, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Neighbors support Innerarity Point Park opening, have mixed feelings on Galvez Landing updates” by Madison Arnold at pnj.com.
At their February 20, 2020 meeting, Escambia County Board of County Commissioners decided to go forward with construction of a new public beach access location at 16477 Perdido Key Drive (next to the Crab Trap Restaurant) despite continued legal opposition. The site will have 34 parking spaces and Mobi-Mat dune walkover instead of a boardwalk. Commissioners committed $228,202 for the project from Tourist Development Tax (TDT) funds.
Since May 2019, “citizen science” volunteers have been measuring the profile of Perdido Key beaches at several sample points as part of a University of New Orleans project. The November 2019 measurement revealed a surprise at the Perdido Key State Park East Use Area: severe storms and high tides had swept away part of the dunes and left a five foot cliff where there had previously been a gradual slope to the beach. The beach erosion also revealed a large wooden structure – a beach access boardwalk that had been covered by sand for many years. As the February 2020 photo shows, sand had already reclaimed the structure while tides and wind reshape the beach once again. Substantial beach erosion has also occurred at the eastern portion of the island not far from the Perdido Key Area of Gulf Islands National Seashore entrance. Seasonal changes will hopefully help restore those beaches as well.
The Visit Pensacola Board of Directors is asking Ms. Pamela Johnson to be the organization’s new President and CEO. She is currently the deputy director of the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau in Fort Myers, Florida, and has 25 years of beach tourism experience. Contract negotiations and final Board approval are needed before the hire is complete. For more on the issue, see the February 26, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Visit Pensacola taps Pamela Johnson with Fort Myers visitors bureau as next CEO” by Madison Arnold at pnj.com.
Plans are moving forward for a new elementary school at 10789 Sorrento Road with a large apartment complex to follow. Some argue the facilities are needed to accommodate growth and employment opportunities in the area while District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill is concerned that Sorrento Road “can’t handle any more traffic. It can’t handle the traffic that we have now.” He believes more money needs to be spent on infrastructure and that greater concern is given to environmental issues such as encroachment on wetlands. For more on the issue, see the February 18, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Is Sorrento Road poised for new growth or already at capacity” by Madison Arnold at pnj.com.
The 200 or so property owners on Innerarity Island may see a big increase in their property taxes. After the Innerarity Island sewer system was abandoned by a private company in 2014, ECUA agreed to take it over but only after extensive repairs and upgrades were made. The initial estimate for the repairs would add $500 to owner annual property tax bills through an MSBU (municipal services benefit unit), but the increase is now estimated at $1600 and has caused considerable concern among some affected owners. For more on this issue see the February 11, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Innerarity Island property taxes expected to balloon over increased cost of sewer project” by Jim Little at pnj.com.
Possible construction of a Dollar General on Gulf Beach Highway in an area of mostly single family homes has been contentious for many months. The land in question is zoned commercial but requires “confirmation of compatibility for its future land use,” leading to various Escambia County administrative decisions and some legal actions. The developers have recently offered “to gift the county 1.6 acres of green space, elevate design standards, and promise not to pursue county payment of attorney fees.” For a recent update on the dispute, see the March 07, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Controversial Dollar General proposal moving forward after settlement” by Madison Arnold at pnj.com.
Oprah Magazine named Perdido Key 13th among 60 small American towns worth visiting. “In this town, you can skip the touristy parts of the state and relax by the (much less crowded) beach. With fishing, boating, snorkeling, multiple golf courses, and more, there is a little something for everyone.” Drawn from January 24, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Oprah Magazine names Perdido Key one of America’s 60 most charming small towns to visit” by Jake Newby at pnj.com.
The PKA Board of Directors is completing the questions for the 2020 Perdido Key Property Owner Survey to be mailed to all Perdido Key property owners within the next month or two. The 2015 survey made local officials and others aware of Perdido Key owner preferences, such as favoring a Perdido Key Master Plan and Multi-Use Path – initiatives that have since been moving forward. When received, please complete and return the survey as soon as possible and encourage others to do so as well – the results can make a difference.
Short-term home rentals can be disruptive to residential neighborhoods, with local governments sometimes restricting them. In 2011, however, the Florida legislature banned cities and counties from adopting any new vacation rental rules. This was rolled back in 2014 following public protest and “allowed communities to regulate rentals, so long as they did not ban them outright or limit their frequency or duration.” Some lawmakers are now pushing to return to essentially the 2011 standard. For more on this issue, see the January 14, 2020 Tallahassee Democrat article “Florida’s battle over short-term rentals resumes” by Zac Anderson at tallahassee.com.
The 2019 “Holidays in the Park” celebration held at the Governors Pavilion in Big Lagoon State Park on December 7 was a great success. Approximately 100 children of all ages attend the event conducted each year by the Friends of Pensacola State Parks and local State Park Rangers. Holiday lights, popcorn and hot cocoa, a warm fire in the fireplace, plus a visit by Santa and local fire fighters were enjoyed by all.
A number of scholars and officials provided information on the effects of the 2010 BP oil spill at the “Shining Light on Deepwater Horizon” seminar held at the downtown Pensacola library on December 4, 2019. An important conclusion for Perdido Key was that its beaches became relatively oil-free within a relatively short time (a year or two after the spill) because the pure quartz sand of the Key provided substantial coating area for bacteria to break down the oil rapidly. In coastal areas with different compositions, such as the bayous of Louisiana, oil from the spill probably remained for a longer time. Much of the marine life in the affected areas of the Gulf of Mexico seems to have made a good recovery, but the population and long-term health of dolphins is not well understood and the “magnitude of sea turtle loss due to the DWH [Deepwater Horizon] spill will make recovery of these populations challenging.” Some aspects of the spill, such as long-term effects of toxic fumes on cleanup personnel, were not covered in the seminar. More information on the effects of the spill can be found from fact sheets available at gulfseagrant.org.
Mobi Mats are polyester mats placed over sand to allow people in wheelchairs, personnel with strollers, and those with difficulty walking on sand to make their way to the shore. A Mobi-Mat is now in place at the Perdido Key Area of the National Seashore in a beach access area near the main parking lot pavilions.
The updated 2020 and preliminary 2021 Blue Angels performance schedules are available at pnj.com. The 2020 Pensacola Beach show will be on July 11 and NAS Pensacola homecoming show on October 16-17. The December 16, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article on the schedule (“Blue Angels 2020 air shows updated and preliminary 2021 schedule released”) noted the Blue Angels are expected to fly the F-18 Super Hornets in 2021, the team’s 75th anniversary season.
The swap of Perdido Key Drive from State of Florida to Escambia County control was approved by state authorities and the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners and recently implemented. District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill is optimistic the change will allow more rapid installation of new traffic safety measures, such as converting from yellow to red flashing lights at crosswalks, working with the Flora-Bama to have paid crossing guards control the flow of cars and pedestrians, and developing designs for a traffic circle or traffic light at the Johnson Beach Road/Perdido Key Drive intersection – the likely location for much of Perdido Key Master Plan development.
Work should begin soon to upgrade the Flora-Bama crosswalk on Perdido Key Drive, a location that can be dangerous to pedestrians and also experiences frequent traffic congestion. According to FDOT spokesman Ian Slater, “the $165,000 project will have a raised mid-block crosswalk that will have a pedestrian activated traffic light to stop traffic while pedestrians are crossing the road.” For more on the issue, see the November 20, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “Flora-Bama to get long-awaited crosswalk on Perdido Key Drive” by Jim Little available at pnj.com.
Perdido Key residents are fortunate to have the nearby ECUA recycling drop-off behind the Escambia County Sheriff’s office on Gulf Beach Hwy – next to the Winn Dixie shopping location. Other locales struggle to maintain recycling capability, such as Santa Rosa County and nearby communities in Alabama, and sometimes must use Escambia County’s ECUA resources. Recycling problems have been recently aggravated by China’s new policy of rejecting much of American material as too contaminated and hence raising recycling costs substantially. The attached photo of the Gulf Beach Hwy location illustrates the contamination problem. What items can you identify that should not be left at this recycling drop-off location?
1. Building and construction material such as insulation and lumber at the site should probably have gone to the Perdido Landfill in northwest Escambia County
2. The plastic sheeting also should probably have gone to the landfill
3. The old television and other castoff electronics can be dropped off during the Escambia County Regional Roundups held periodically at varying locations in the County.
To find out what can be recycled, go to ecua.fl.gov.
The boat ramp at Big Lagoon State Park is closed for 9-10 months of renovation. With funding provided as a result of the BP oil spill, the slip will be substantially upgraded during the closure.
The Garcon Landing boat ramp will be renovated in 2020. According to Robert Turpin, manager for the Escambia County Marine Resources Division, the boat ramp will provide “longer parking and better turning radii” so that parking and launching will be easier and safer. He also noted that public input regarding the project can still be made with the next Marine Advisory Meeting scheduled for 5:30 PM, Monday, September 9, 2019 at the Escambia County Central Office Complex. For more on this issue, see the August 26, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “Galvez Landing boat ramp awaits changes” by Jim Little at pnj.com.
Photo: Big Lagoon Boat Landing October 2019
International Coastal Cleanup Day was held on a windy September 21, 2019 and drew about 40 volunteers who cleaned Perdido Key beaches from the Alabama border to the Perdido Key Area of Gulf Islands National Seashore. PKA members also used a kayak to scour the Old River side of the State Park and removed trash from its shoreline. The annual event was based at Perdido Key State Park and hosted by the Perdido Key Association, Friends of Pensacola State Parks, and Florida State Parks.
Gulf Islands National Seashore is distributing car magnets with the image of the Perdido Key beach mouse as part of its “ongoing wildlife awareness campaign.” Brent Everitt, spokesperson for Gulf Islands, said “this is the first year the park will highlight the endangered Perdido Key beach mouse with a magnet.” He added that “the mice help to stabilize the dunes” and that “while small, the mouse has a big impact on the dune communities it calls home.” The magnets can be picked up at the entry gate of the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. For more on this issue, see the October 2, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “How to get a free Perdido Key beach mouse magnet from Gulf Islands National Seashore” by Melissa Nelson Gabriel at pnj.com.
A proposal moving forward in the Florida legislature would encourage shifts from above ground to underground electrical utilities as part of efforts to reduce power outages after hurricanes. A key part of the measure apparently would be financing projects with “upfront costs for consumers” instead of past practice where changes have “generally been financed through base electric rates…” A number of contentious issues seem to remain as the legislation moves forward toward implementation. Many hope that Perdido Key, where main roads have above ground utilities, will be able to convert to underground utilities at some point in the future. For more on this issue, see the October 3, 2019 The News Service of Florida article “Underground power lines measure takes another step” by Jim Saunders at gainesville.com.
Because of rapid turnover during the summer season, many visitors to Perdido Key are likely to be uninformed about sea turtle regulations and nesting habits. One condominium is bridging the knowledge gap with the following procedures:
1. Beach information sheets and discussions about the turtle regulations are provided with every parking pass
2. Turtle watch signage is posted on bulletin boards, elevators and beach entrances
3. A hired beach service patrols the beach every night to remove personal items left on the beach
4. When a turtle nest will soon hatch, “Lights Out” is posted on bulletin boards, elevators, and beach entrances
PKA and the Friends of Pensacola State Parks conducted a modest World Oceans Day event on Saturday, July 20, 2019; the original event scheduled for June 7 was cancelled because of expected thunderstorms. At the replacement event, World Oceans Day posters and art work by students from the Helen Caro Elementary School were exhibited along the central boardwalk area of the Perdido Key State Park West Use Area. It was a rainy day so beach attendance was low, but visitors attending received World Oceans Day tote bags and seemed to appreciate the posters and student art work.
The number of lionfish in the north Gulf of Mexico seemed to drop substantially in 2017 and 2018, but may be recovering in 2019. Many lionfish taken in recent months have lesions, though the cause of the ulceration has not been determined and it is not clear the lesions are the cause for changes in lionfish numbers. For more on the issue, see the February 4, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Will new disease causing open sores on lionfish spell the end of the invasive species?” by Janet Mcconnaughey at pnj.com.
There were 64 shark attacks worldwide in 2019, down from the average of 82, with 41 attacks in the United States. Two people died from the attacks, one near Reunion Island and the other in the Bahamas. About 100 million sharks and rays are killed each year, mostly by commercial fishermen. For more on sharks, see the January 21, 2020 USA Today article “Good news for beachgoers: The number of shark attacks decreasing” by Doyle Rice at usatoday.com.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and NOAA Fisheries are updating the cobia stock assessment. If you are a cobia fisherman, you can help by sharing your observations at the following website: docs.google.com/forms. Information provided by Rick O’Connor, Florida Sea Grant Escambia County.
The number of Florida panthers, Florida’s official state animal, may have decreased as estimated by a decline in road kills – a rough guide to change in the panther population. 23 kills occurred in 2019 compared to 26 in 2017, 24 in 2016, and 34 in 2016. There are an estimated 120 to 230 individuals, “most of which live south of Lake Okeechobee and in or near Collier County.” “The Florida panther is the only population of cougars living east of the Mississippi River, and it’s protected by federal and state laws.” For more on the panther, see the January 6, 2020 Dayton Beach News-Journal article “Florida panther road kills, overall deaths down in 2019” by Chad Gillis at news-journalonline.com.
Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service
The Gulf Frontal Watershed Management Plan is an initiative to address water quality issues in the Mobile Bay and Perdido Bay watersheds. As part of the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, it hopes to bring a diverse array of stakeholders to the table to address ongoing environmental issues in the region, such as storm water runoff, wetlands restoration, and land use planning and practices. More information on the program is available at a variety of online locations, including the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program website at mobilebaynep.com and on Facebook. To join the mailing list, go to constantcontact.com.
The Pensacola News Journal has been running a series of articles on environmental problems in the region, including water quality in Perdido Bay and other nearby waterways. As one article noted, the “Sins of the Past” still weigh heavily on Escambia County. Concerns with water quality extend to recent minor outbreaks of blue-green algae in Santa Rosa Sound, red algae in nearby Gulf of Mexico waters, and the US Coast Guard decision to no longer use “Mobile Bay for certain types of exercises after rescue swimmers reported falling ill during training.” For more on these issues, see the November 20, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “Paradise Squandered: Escambia County confronts pollution 'sins of the past' | Part 3” by Kevin Robinson at pnj.com and the al.com article “Coast Guard moves training out of Mobile Bay after swimmers get sick” by Christopher Harress at al.com.
At the 10th US Symposium on Harmful Algae held November 3-7, 2019 in Orange Beach, Alabama, a panel discussion on stakeholder opinion about harmful algae suggested at least two points of interest: not enough money is being allocated to properly investigate and monitor the proliferation of dangerous algae; and, when dangerous algae blooms appear, the availability of social media makes it difficult for authoritative information to reach the public because of the rapid spread of sometimes incomplete and inaccurate information over social media..
Cogon grass is an invasive species from Southeast Asia recently spotted on Perdido Key. It is listed as one of the “Top 10 Worst Weeds in the World” and spreads readily and can displace native plants. It is a perennial grass with yellow-green foliage and a “fuzzy, white, and plume-like” seed head. For more on cogon grass, see the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Science article “Imperata cylindrical” at plants.ifas.ufl.edu.
Perdido Key Association
PO Box 16337
Pensacola, Florida 32507
Perdido Key Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; donations are tax-deductible.