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Florida and Alabama Reopening after COVID-19 Shutdowns

Both Florida and Alabama have been moving forward with reopening beaches and other coastal activities following the precautions taken because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to Escambia County public beach access locations, Perdido Key State Park and the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore have reopened and restored beach availability to essentially pre-COVID-19 status. Restaurants and a number of other businesses previously closed or subject to limitations are undergoing a phased reopening with social distancing practices in place. For Florida, directions and guidance on restrictions and reopening can be found at web locations such as Governor De Santis’ Executive Orders at flgov.com and the Florida Department of Health at floridahealth.gov; guidelines for Alabama’s reopening are available from the Alabama Public Health website at alabamapublichealth.gov; other resources include the US Federal Government at usa.gov/coronavirus and local media.

Staying Healthy

COVID 19 is extremely infectious so considerable direction has been given on how to impede its spread. The following guidance is from the Escambia County web location on COVID 19: “stay home when you are sick; cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then discard in trash; avoid close contact with people who are sick; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water is not available; and, clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.” Some recent commentary gives more consideration to wearing facemasks. Guidance on testing for COVID 19 in Escambia County can be obtained at myescambia.com.

Images: CDC

The following websites provide information about COVID 19 and its repercussions:

US Federal Government at usa.gov/coronavirus

State of Florida updates at floridahealth.gov

Escambia County at myescambia.com

Visit Pensacola updates at visitpensacola.com

Mullet Wrapper at mulletwrapper.net

Pensacola News Journal “COVID 19 Watch” for subscribers

Florida Sea Grant compilation of disaster assistance programs at flseagrant.org.

Progress on the Perdido Key Multi-Use Path

The Escambia County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) 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 east portion of 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. For the west portion of the Path, on April 2, 2020 the BOCC approved Design Assignment Agreements that allow Escambia County to complete design and permitting and on May 7, 2020 it approved using funds leftover from the Perdido Key crosswalk upgrades to complete a $28,384 payment for Design/Engineering contracts that will free $1.76 million of state funds for construction of the west area on July 1, 2020. Various administrative and contracting processes must still be completed, but construction is likely to begin before the end of 2020 for the west portion and sometime into 2021 for the east portion of the Path.

Invasive Species Awareness Week

May 18-22, 2020 is Florida Invasive Species Awareness Week. Sea Grant is sponsoring discussion about invasive species on Facebook LIVE each day beginning at 9:00 AM CDT. To join, go to facebook.com. The daily topics are:

Monday May 18 – Opening Kick-Off with discussion by extension agents and Q&A on invasive species in general and the Florida Panhandle in particular

Tuesday May 19 – Giant Salvinia, a problem plant in some ponds in the Florida Panhandle; learn more about the plant and how to manage it

Wednesday May 20 – Feral Hogs seem a problem everywhere

Thursday May 21 – Regal Demoiselle, a new non-native fish in the Gulf of Mexico; the session will educate participants on its appearance and enlist help to assist in its management

Friday May 22 – Wrap Up will discuss how to report and remove invasive species from yards and community parks


Images:  Giant Salvinia, Ann Murray, UF/IFAS / Feral Hog, Missouri Dept of Conservation Staff / Regal Demoiselle, Jack Randall, USGS 



New Visit Pensacola President and CEO

Darien Schaefer has assumed duties as Visit Pensacola’s new President and CEO. He comes to the area from three years as CEO at Visit Big Bear in Big Bear Lake, California and has over 20 years of destination marketing experience, including CEO of VISIT Lake Geneva and Executive Director of the Wausau/Central Wisconsin CVB and Sports Authority. For more on the issue, see the March 11, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Visit Pensacola switches direction for next president, tap Darien Schaefer after first choice drops out” by Madison Arnold at pnj.com.

Perdido Key Property Owner Survey

The 2020 Perdido Key Property Owner Survey will be mailed the week of May 24, 2020. The 2015 survey made local officials and others aware of Perdido Key owner preferences, such as favoring a 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 if possible encourage others to do so – the results must be received by PKA by June 30, 2020.

Innerarity Island Sewer Upgrade

The Innerarity Island water and sewer systems are being upgraded for transfer to ECUA, but remain contentious as evidenced by discussion at the May 7, 2020 Escambia County Board of County Commissioner’s (BOCC) meeting. The annual municipal services benefit unit (MSBU) fee for each property owner may be $2000 for 10 years instead of the expected $500. A number of Island residents spoke at the BOCC meeting on the sewer issues’ development and the impact of the likely fee increase. For more on the issue, see the May 11, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Escambia County to review how it became responsible for Innerarity Island’s sewer system” by Jim Little at pnj.com.

Visit Local Museums Online

Virtual tours of local museums and other activities were identified in the April 15, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Pensacola pride: Virtual museum tours, beach webcams you can enjoy from home” by Jake Newby at pnj.com.

Blue Angels and Thunderbirds Joint US Tour

Both the Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds have been in the Pensacola area in recent days beginning a national tour. The precision flying teams will visit many US cities in the next few weeks as part of “Operation America Strong.” President Trump said the air shows were “paying tribute to our front-line health care workers confronting COVID. And it’s really a signal to all Americans to remain vigilant during the outbreak.” The recent flyovers of New York City and surrounding areas were featured on national network news broadcasts. The Thunderbirds were activated in 1953 and are based at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas; the group has flown F-16 aircraft since 1983. For more on the tour, see the April 23, 2020 Pensacola News Journal article “Blue Angels and Thunderbirds to go on multi-city ‘Operation American Strong’ flyover tour” by Jake Newby at pnj.com

Top photo: Thunderbirds over Los Angeles US Air Force Photo SSgt Ashley Corkins. Bottom photo: Blue Angels media gallery.


Manatee Sightings

Manatee have been sighted in Big Lagoon and nearby waters, including the one captured in the accompanying photo swimming near NAS Pensacola on April 20, 2020. With the apparent increase in manatee sightings in the Perdido Key area, extra care in boating may be appropriate. For information on precautions, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s “A boater’s guide to Living with Florida Manatee” is available at myfwc.com.

Photo by Nicole White April 20, 2020

Gulf Power and Florida Power & Light to Merge

Pensacola area utility Gulf Power was formerly part of Southern Company but was sold to NextEra, the parent company of Florida Power & Light (FPL) in January 2019. As revealed in its filing with Florida’s Public Service Commission, NextEra expects “FPL and Gulf Power will begin to operate as an integrated electric system in 2022.” For more on the issue, see the Pensacola News Journal April 22, 2020 article “Gulf Power and Florida Power and LIght plan to merge in 2020” by Jim Saunders at pnj.com.

Private Rosamond Johnson Ceremony Rescheduled

Because of the COVID 19 pandemic, the annual ceremony at Rosamond Johnson Beach on the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore honoring Army Private Rosamond Johnson has been postponed. Usually conducted the first weekend in May, the ceremony has been rescheduled for Veterans Day, Wednesday, November 11, 2020.

Earth Day at 50 Years

Earth Day was celebrated worldwide on April 22, 2020 – its 50th year, but mostly online because of the COVID 19 pandemic. “The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. The enormous challenge — but also the vast opportunities — of action on climate change have distinguished the issue as the most pressing topic for the 50th anniversary.” For commentary about Earth Day concerns and activities, consider the following websites: “Earth Day 2020 goes digital amid coronavirus pandemic” by Jessica Flores at usatoday.com; “Earth Day at 50: Best Ways to change the world” by Gaia Vince at bbc.com; and, Earth Day 2020 organization websites at earthday.org and twitter.com/EarthDayNetwork.

Graphic: Oxbow Eco-Center, St. Lucie County FL

Bridge to Pensacola Beach now Cashless

To help prevent the spread of COVID 19, the Bob Sikes Bridge to Pensacola Beach from Gulf Breeze has gone cashless before the planned implementation later in the spring. Only Florida’s Sun Pass or other interoperable transponders will work, or be billed with TOLL-BY-PLATE.

2020 Hurricane Season Expected to be Above Normal

Forecasters at Colorado State University anticipate the 2020 hurricane season, which begins on June 1 and goes through November 30, will have above normal activity with eight hurricanes, including four major ones, among its 16 named tropical storms. They predict an above average chance of major hurricanes making US or Caribbean landfall. For more on the issue, see the Weather Channel article “2020 Hurricane season expected to be more active than normal, Colorado State University outlook says” by Jonathan Belles and Brian Donegan at weather.com.

Pedestrian Crosswalks Upgrade Completed

Escambia County recently completed upgrades to the five crosswalks on Perdido Key Drive. The crosswalks now have “pedestrian-activated flashing in-roadway lights, a bi-directional pedestrian-activated flashing LED crossing sign, a ‘Pedestrian Crossing Ahead’ sign and a ‘Pedestrian Crossing Ahead’ pavement message.” For more information on the upgrade, go to the April 13, 2020 Escambia County news article at “Perdido Key Drive Pedestrian Crossing Upgrade Project Completed."

Innerarity Point Park Opening

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.

Construction of new Perdido Key Beach Access to begin

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. 

Beach Erosion and Winter Storms

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.

Dollar General Dispute enters new Phase

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.

Perdido Key Recognized by Oprah Magazine

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.

Legislature Debates Short-Term Rental Homes

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.

More Traffic Control at the Flora-Bama

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.

Big Lagoon and Galvez Landing Boat Ramps

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

Successful International Coastal Cleanup Day

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.



World Oceans Day Makeup Event

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. 

PKA Annual Membership Meeting

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. 

NOTES ON THE ENVIRONMENT

Can the Oceans by Saved?

The BBC Reel article “Oceans can be successfully restored by 2050, say scientists,” by Matt McGrath states that while oceans have been exploited by mankind for centuries and severely compromised by climate change and acidification, research also points to the oceans’ resilience. This is apparent in the rebound of humpback whales in recent years and the drop in the proportion of marine species threatened with extinction from 18% in 2000 to 11.4% in 2019 [data from the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)]. The hopeful conclusion comes from knowing the “key components” in rebuilding the oceans, such as salt marshes, oyster reefs, and megafauna, and the range of actions required. According to Professor Callum Roberts: “Science gives us reason to be optimistic about the future of our oceans, but we are not currently doing enough in the UK or globally.” Rescuing the oceans is difficult but achievable; according to Professor Carlos Duarte, “Failure to embrace this challenge, and in doing so condemning our grandchildren to a broken ocean unable to support high quality livelihood is not an option.” The article is available at bbc.com.

Gulf Frontal Watershed Management Plan

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.

Local Air and Water Quality

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..

Perdido Key Association
PO Box 16337
Pensacola, Florida 32507

Perdido Key Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; donations are tax-deductible.