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Perdido Key’s Disastrous Fire

At 4 AM on June 19, 2019, a quick-moving fire broke out at the Key Harbour condominiums on Perdido Key, not far from the Flora-Bama. Windy conditions and the close proximity of wooden structures to each other contributed to the destruction of many condos at Key Harbour, Pescador Landing, and a single dwelling west of Key Harbour; other units suffering damage as well. Thanks to the efforts of first responders and citizens, guests and residents were alerted and there were no fatalities, though two people were hospitalized. Escambia County Fire Rescue, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, and other county first responders, along with emergency services from Orange Beach, Pensacola and other locales helped keep the damage from becoming even more disastrous than it was. The Red Cross was ready to assist and donations to help those displaced by the fire can be made to the Perdido Bay United Methodist Church.

The cause of the fire is under investigation though an air conditioning unit was mentioned by some. Others have expressed concern with aspects of the response, such as insufficient water pressure and lack of adequate equipment for firefighters. Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill told AL.com the county’s fire and rescue department had recently “got its first new fire truck in 10 years and was approximately 25 to 30 firefighters short across the county.” “In spite of the fact we’re undermanned and under equipped, the firefighters were great in bringing the fire under control.” “But it’s a real shame that as a society we’re banking on these men and women going above and beyond for less money and poor equipment.” “That has to change.” For more on the fire, see the June 19, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “Let’s Just Get Out: Fire rips through Perdido Key destroying 26 condos and displaying dozens” by Kevin Robinson and Colin Warren-Hicks at pnj.com and the June 26, 2019 AL.com posting “’Where is the water?’ Angry Perdido Key residents blame county for unprepared fire department” by Christopher Harris at al.com.

Beach Access Dispute

Disagreement over public beach access to the 4-acre property just east of the Crab Trap Restaurant on Perdido Key continues. According to Tim Day, Escambia County’s natural resources management director, a recent proposal for 44 parking places at the site was not accepted because it would interfere with the property’s dunes. Escambia County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh (District 1) said he anticipates the facility will be open by winter while Commissioner Doug Underhill (District 2) believes “federal authorities will eventually reject any proposal the county puts forward” and favors county purchase of beach access land elsewhere on Perdido Key. For more information, see the July 22, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “Opening of controversial Perdido Key beach parking lot delayed for environmental changes” by Melissa Nelson Gabriel at pnj.com.

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. 

Hurricane Season Begins

With our neighbors to the east in Panama City, Mexico Beach and elsewhere still recovering from Hurricane Michael, it is a good time to take stock of preparations for this year’s hurricane season. The latest NOAA predictions call for a near normal hurricane season (June 1–November 30) with 9 to 15 named storms and 4 to 8 becoming hurricanes. As last year’s experience with Michael demonstrated, hurricanes off the Gulf Coast can strengthen rapidly and leave little time for preparation. To get ready, consider reviewing the May 17, 2019 “Panhandle Outdoors” article “Preparing for Hurricane Seasons – Ten Tips to protect your home and family” by Carrie Stevenson at nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu. The State of Florida is providing an incentive for preparation with a tax holiday from May 31 to June 06 on items useful in any disaster. Details are available in the May 29, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article by Tom Urban and Jim Turner “Hurricane tax holiday starts in two days” at pnj.com. For more on the hurricane season, see the May 23, 2019 Associated Press/KSL.com article by Seth Borenstein “US Forecasters: Expect near normal hurricane season” at ksl.com.

Oil Spill Questions and Concerns

The Florida state oil spill specialist would like to know what questions and concerns people in the Escambia County area have about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its after-effects. Please send your queries and comments to Escambia County Sea Grant Representative Rick O’Connor at [email protected].

August Alabama Fishing

In a July 30, 2019 press release, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reminded anglers of a number of changes to saltwater fishing regulations that will take effect on August 1, 2019. These include size and/or catch limits for cobia, spotted sea trout and flounder; non-stainless steel hook requirements for Gulf Reef Fish and sharks; plus, a red snapper season extended to August 5, 2019. For additional information, go to outdooralabama.com.

Gulf Shores Pursuing Intracoastal Waterway Pedestrian Bridge

As part of its request to the federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grant Program, Gulf Shores hopes to fund a pedestrian bridge “either attached to the current Intracoastal Waterway Bridge or a freestanding bridge east of Tacky Jack’s at the site of the old cantilever bridge.” It is one of several Gulf Shores transportation improvement initiatives discussed in the July 17-31, 2019 Mullet Wrapper article “City seeks funds to add pedestrian bridge over Intracoastal Waterway” by John Mullen, available at mulletwrapper.net.

Safer Inside Vehicles than Outside

According to recent estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of bicyclist deaths rose 10% and pedestrian deaths 4% in 2018 compared to 2017 while deaths of auto drivers and passengers decreased 1% – continuing a three year decline. Automakers have improved vehicle safety features, but few have introduced systems that detect and brake for pedestrians and bicyclists. For more on this issue, see The Greenville News July 4, 2019 article “Cars get safer, but not for people outside them” by Chris Woodward at greenvilleonline.com.

Toxic Algae on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast

Mississippi’s Gulf Coast beaches were closed for swimming in early July because of an outbreak of toxic blue-green algae (a cyanobacteria). For more on the issue, see the July 7, 2019 Monroe News-Star article “All Mississippi beaches closed as toxic algae bloom blankets the state’s coast” by Greg Hilburn at thenewsstar.com; for additional information on Mississippi beach closures, go the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality website at mdeq.ms.gov.

Plastic Free July and Orlando Parks 

“Plastic Free July” is a world-wide challenge to reduce the use of single-use plastics by individuals and organizations (for more information, go to https://www.plasticfreejuly.org/). With a similar goal, effective October 1, 2019 Orlando will ban “plastic straws, bags, cutlery and Styrofoam food containers at its city parks and venues” with some exemptions available for those with disabilities and special events. For more information, see the June 5, 2019 Associated Press Wire Services article “Orlando Bans Plastics at Parks, Venues starting Oct. 1” at usnews.com.

PKA 2020 Property Owner Survey

PKA Board members are beginning preparations for the 2020 Perdido Key Property Owner Survey and would welcome PKA member input on the survey questions. The 2015 survey is available for review as one of the pages on this website. The 2015 survey has been an important factor in ensuring Escambia County and other decision-makers are aware of Perdido Key property owner opinion about the future of our wonderful island; we hope the new survey will be similarly useful. Please send your ideas to [email protected].

Perdido Key Multi-Use Path Update

The Perdido Key Multi-Use Path (sometimes called Shared-Use Path) will provide a safe refuge for pedestrians and cyclists. The eight foot wide concrete path will be at ground level on the north side but separate from Perdido Key Drive; it will not have any boardwalks as originally conceived. Another modification to the path design extends the previously planned terminus at the base of the Theo Baars Bridge along the west side of the bridge to join the River Road pedestrian/bicycle path – a change that will allow a Perdido Key Drive/River Road loop without having to cross busy Perdido Key Drive. The west portion (from the Alabama state line to the west end of Perdido Key State Park) is fully funded for planning/engineering and construction, with construction 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, but FDOT has not yet funded construction. $960,000 of RESTORE funding has been awarded and PKA hopes additional funds can be found for construction of the entire path. Ground is expected to be broken on the path in mid-2020.


The Heron and the Snake

Early one June morning, residents of a condominium facing the Old River watched a blue heron patrolling the water line suddenly move up the shore. The heron proceeded to attack a water moccasin, beating it on the ground and then swallowing it head first; the first try did not go so well with the snake still writhing, so the heron beat it some more and then swallowed it again – this time successfully. The heron followed its triumph by moving to a branch on a nearby tree and standing on one leg to digest its tasty meal.

Join PKA on PayPal!

You can now join the Perdido Key Association and renew PKA memberships online. PKA has established a PayPal payment capability through this website near the bottom of each page. You do not need to be a PayPal member because PayPal also accepts credit cards. Online payment will be $31, i.e., the $30 dues plus $1 service fee; payment by check and US Mail of $30 remains available

Pensacola 15th Most Desirable

Pensacola was 15th in the 25 “Best Places to Live” ranking published by US News and World Report. The ranking takes into account “affordability, job market and population growth due to net migration.” Honolulu and Colorado Springs ranked 1 and 2 in the list. For more on this issue, see the June 3, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “Pensacola named 15th ‘most desirable’ place to live in U.S.” at pnj.com.

Gasoline Taxes around the United States

How much of our gasoline cost goes to state taxes? According to a Databank USA chart, Florida is relatively high with 42 cents, neighboring Georgia is at 35.3 cents, Alabama at 21.1 cents, and Mississippi at 18.8 cents. The highest gas tax in the country is Pennsylvania at 58.7 cents while Missouri is lowest at 17.4 cents. For more on this issue, see the June 2019 AARP Bulletin.

Dead Zone Forecast

Researchers at Louisiana State University have predicted the second largest Gulf of Mexico summer “dead zone” on record – spreading to about the size of New Hampshire. “A dead zone occurs at the bottom of a body of water when there isn’t enough oxygen in the water to support marine life.” It is caused by nutrients moving from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. According to University of Michigan aquatic ecologist Don Scavia, “The bottom line is that we will never reach the dead zone reduction target of 1,900 square miles until more serious actions are taken to reduce the loss of Midwest fertilizers into the Mississippi River system.” For more on the issue, see the June 10, 2019 USA Today article “Near record ‘dead zone’ predicted in Gulf of Mexico this summer” by Doyle Rice at usatoday.com.

Sargassum Seaweed on Florida Beaches

Sargassum seaweed is an important part of the oceanic food chain, often forming “acre-sized” patches floating in open water that provide food and shelter for small and large creatures. It is abundant off Florida’s Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts and throughout the Caribbean. But as if 2018’s problems with blue-green algae and red tide blooms were not enough, South Florida is combating large amounts of dead sargassum on many of its Atlantic beaches and off-shore waters – leading to noxious odors and problems for boating and fishing. According to Edie Widder of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association of Fort Pierce, “although it is difficult to prove unequivocally, it seems likely that global warming and nutrient pollution are probably fanning the flames of this particular conflagration.” For more on this issue, see the Treasure Coast Newspapers May 30, 2019 article “Sargassum seaweed: The good, the bad and the ugly” by Ed Killer at tcpalm.com.

Brevard Times photo

CO2 Highest

The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached levels not “seen in human history and is also higher than in millions of years.” The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii levels in May 2019 measured 414.8 parts per million. Increased carbon dioxide levels have been linked with global warming concerns. For more on this issue, see the June 4, 2019 USA Today article “Earth’s carbon dioxide levels are highest they’ve seen in millions of years” by Doyle Rice at usatoday.com.

Pythons in the Everglades

Burmese pythons in the Everglades have led to precipitous declines in native species, with “99.3% fewer raccoons, 98.9% fewer opossums, and 87.5% fewer bobcats.” One strategy to counter the python onslaught has been to plant trackers on males to lead them to females during breeding season, which can then be caught and destroyed. This “Judas snake method” has resulted in 17 captures, with hundreds of others caught by other methods – but still only making a small impact on the 10s of thousands of pythons remaining in the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve. For more on this issue, see the June 13, 2019 Treasure Coast Newspapers article “’Can Burmese pythons be eradicated from the Everglades? Judas snakes program shows promise” by Ed Killer at tcpalm.com.

Flight Student Injured on Perdido Key Drive Recovering

Two years ago Jordan Lo, a naval aviator student at NAS Pensacola, was struck by a drunken driver on Perdido Key Drive and almost lost his life. He was one of eight pedestrians hit that night by the drunken driver. The massive wounds created doubts “he would ever independently walk, talk or even eat on his own.” His recent visit to Pensacola, in part to thank the medical staff at Baptist Hospital for saving his life, showed he was making remarkable progress in recovering from his injuries. “His goal is to pass the Navy’s medical board exam, a prerequisite needed to reapply to flight school.” For more on the story, see the May 22, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article by Colin Warren-Hicks “Flight Student injured by drunk driver determined to return to the Navy” at pnj.com.


I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge Toll

To help deal with increasing I-10 traffic on the approaches to Mobile, plans are developing for a bridge to supplement the Wallace Tunnel on the west side of Mobile Bay. Construction of the bridge should being in 2020 with completion in 2025. While the bridge may be necessary, plans for a toll of between $3 and $6 to use it and the Wallace Tunnel are more controversial. For more on the issue, see the May 18, 2019 AL.com article by John Sharp “Toll opposition dominates I-10 Mobile River bridge project hearing” at al.com.

Gulf Power Storm Charge

In July 2019, Gulf Power will implement a five year $8 per 1000 kilowatt hour increase in residential electric utility bills “to collect hurricane-related costs and maintain a storm reserve fund.” Gulf Power spokesperson Kimberly Blair noted, however, that “over the past year, Gulf Power has ‘reduced the typical bill by more than $15, so many customer’s power bills would still be less than they were in January 2018.’” For more on the issue, see the May 14, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article by Kevin Robinson “Gulf Power will add ‘storm charge’ for Hurricane Michael recovery costs’ for Hurricane Michael recovery costs” at pnj.com.

Funding Visit Florida

Visit Florida is a state-wide tourism marketing organization that receives state funding, but funds could be greatly reduced or eliminated depending on current budget negotiations. According to Steve Hays of Visit Pensacola, no or low funding of Visit Florida would “have a big impact on tourism marketing in Pensacola.” District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill, however, “supports Visit Pensacola but thinks it is time for Visit Florida to go.” For more on the issue, see the April 30, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article by Melissa Nelson Gabriel “Promoting Pensacola to Tourists – what happens if Visit Florida goes away?” at pnj.com.


Volunteers and Citizen Science

The April 2019 AARP Bulletin provided state by state comparison of the percentage of adults 65 and older who reported volunteering in the past year. Nevada had the lowest percentage at 16.8%, but Florida was fourth lowest at 18.7%; Utah had by far the highest percentage of volunteers with 45.9%. There are several opportunities on or near Perdido Key for volunteers of all ages, including citizen science projects such as shoreline profile and seagrass monitoring and organized beach and roadside cleanups. And there is much to do: the Pensacola-area Ocean Hour announced its volunteers had collected almost 18,000 pounds of trash in 2018 and 7,400 pounds through March 2019. For more on Ocean Hour cleanups, go to the April 19, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “Nearly 18,000 pounds of trash was picked from Pensacola-area beaches in 2018” by Sharon Gincauskas and Barbara Mozur at pnj.com.

Surf Style Store

The new building taking shape across from the Eden Condominium on Perdido Key Drive will be a Surf Style beach store, perhaps similar to one located in Orange Beach.

More on Offshore Drilling

While many Floridians and public officials oppose drilling for oil and gas off Florida’s coasts, others continue its advocacy. Representatives of the American Petroleum Institute visited Pensacola in April to support “environmentally responsible access to our offshore energy resources.” Former US Senator James Webb spoke at a Pensacola Bay Center luncheon on April 4 and noted, among other arguments in favor of offshore energy production cited in the Pensacola News Journal article, that it would “free the U.S. from potential harmful entanglements with foreign power, and [provide] American citizens with jobs and opportunity.” For more on this issue, see the April 5, 2019 “Explore Offshore visits Pensacola to build support for offshore oil industry” article by Kevin Robinson at pnj.com and the April 24, 2019 USA Today Network-Florida Editorial Boards article “Turning the Toxic Tide: Permanently ban offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico” at pnj.com.

Perdido Key Drive to become a county road?

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.

NOTES ON THE ENVIRONMENT

Osprey on the Key

Springtime features nesting birds on the Gulf Coast and Perdido Key’s osprey community is no exception. These two young ospreys were spotted in a high nest not far from Perdido Key Drive.

Shorebird and Sea Turtle Nesting Seasons

Shorebird nesting season began on March 1 and continues through October 31, 2019; sea turtle nesting season begins on May 1 and also ends October 31, 2019. Be particularly careful when on or driving near Perdido Key beaches and certainly obey all dune and other access limiting and warning signs.

Cogon Grass

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.

PKA Annual Membership Meeting

The Perdido Key Association held its 2019 Annual Membership Meeting on Saturday, February 23, 2019 at the Eden Condominium on Perdido Key. After meeting preliminaries and member approval of the 2018 Annual Meeting Minutes and Financial Report, PKA president Charles Krupnick introduced featured speaker District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill. The Commissioner addressed many of the issues important to Perdido Key property owners and residents, including the Perdido Key Shared-Use/Multi-Use Path – generally on track despite the loss of some previously expected funding; the 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; Florabama traffic – incremental progress being made, but an elevated pedestrian cross-over is unlikely; Escambia County budget issues – current spending may not be sustainable for the long-term; efforts to create public beach access and parking at 16400 Perdido Key Drive – an initiative he opposes which has an uncertain fate; and, the Perdido Key Master Plan (the “People’s Design Document”) – discussions continuing with the principal developer. Commissioner Underhill also noted the importance of the Habitat Conservation Plan as a defense against overdevelopment and provided detailed responses to the multiple questions, which seemed much appreciated by the audience. 

PKA president Charles Krupnick then reported on PKA 2018 initiatives. In addition to periodic testimony at government decision-making bodies on issues relevant to Perdido Key, PKA co-sponsored International Coastal Cleanup Day in September and Adopt-A-Highway cleanups of a portion of Rt. 98 every quarter. He highlighted the very successful World Oceans Day event in June at Perdido Key State Park where an estimated 400 people came to view a variety of ocean conservancy relevant exhibits, plus sculptures in the beach sand and colorful kites in the skies overhead. He also noted the completion of the County’s Perdido Key Dune Restoration Project, but that little progress had been made toward underground utilities on Perdido Key. An unapproved version of the 2019 meeting minutes will be posted in the Archive page of the Perdido Key Association website in the near future.

Perdido Key Association
PO Box 16337
Pensacola, Florida 32507

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