Several PKA Directors, Perdido Key Chamber representatives, and other interested parties met with Escambia County officials on December 9, 2019 to discuss progress toward the Perdido Key Multi-Use Path. Among the information shared at the meeting was that the Path will be ADA compliant; there are no special plans for lighting as yet; the PATH will be 8 ft wide because of environmental and funding constraints/trade-offs and will have a center stripe; a park and benches could be added at a later date as long as they are on "sod" and not Perdido Key beach mouse sand habitat; and, the mice should have no problem crossing the path.
Construction may begin in September 2020.
Exciting information passed on at the meeting was that the east portion of the Path could be fully funded by the RESTORE program. The west portion (from the Alabama state line to Perdido Key State Park) has been fully funded for design and construction whereas the east portion (Perdido Key State Park to Gongora Drive/River Road) was fully funded for design but only partially funded by the RESTORE program for construction.
The planned increase to complete the east portion will be from $960,000 to $4.5 million and can use your support. It is included in the RESTORE Act Draft Multi-Year Implementation Plan Amendment 1 that has a 45-day public comment period that began on Friday, December 20, 2019 and runs through Thursday, February 6, 2020 at 11:59 PM. Public comments can be submitted in the following ways: by the Online public comment form; in person at the MYIP Amendment 1 Public Comment Meeting, Tuesday, January 14, 2020 at 5:30 PM, Central Office Complex, 3363 West Park Place, Room 104; by Email; and, by USPS mail “Attention - Escambia County Natural Resources Management-RESTORE, 221 Palafox Place, Pensacola, FL 32502.” (Information drawn from Escambia County Community and Media Relations December 20, 2019 e-mail titled “Public Comment Period Opens for RESTORE Draft MYIP Amendment 1”)
All comments are encouraged. And it would be terrific if those interested in the Perdido Key Multi-Use Path are able to attend the 5:30 PM January 14, 2020 meeting at the Escambia County Central Office Complex!.
Many PKA members and friends helped begin the holiday season at the annual PKA Holiday Party held on December 9, 2019 at the Seafarer Condominium meeting room. Wonderful food and good conversation were in ample supply.
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.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will be holding a public meeting on proposed changes to Interstate 10 (I-10) on February 4, 2020 from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM at the Pine Hills United Methodist Church, 2800 Wilde Lake Boulevard, Pensacola. Changes anticipated include increasing I-10 lanes from four to six from the Alabama border to the Rt. 29 interchange and reconstructing the interchanges at Nine Mile Road and Pine Hills to “Diverging Diamond Interchanges.”
Members of the general public will have an opportunity to express their concerns about Perdido Bay/Mobile Bay watershed issues beginning at 6 PM at a February 06, 2020 meeting at the Gulf State Park Learning Campus, 20249 Highway 135 in Gulf Shores. This is an important part of the “Gulf Frontal Watershed Management Plan” initiative to address water quality issues in the two watersheds. The initiative hopes to bring diverse stakeholders together to address ongoing environmental concerns such as storm water runoff, wetlands restoration, and land use planning and practices. More information on the program is available from the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program website at mobilebaynep.com.
A Department of the Interior committee has proposed that the National Park Service charge entry fees for Senior Pass holders during periods of heavy use of National Parks. Senior Pass holders currently have free entry to all National Parks after purchasing the pass which currently costs $80. Information on the proposal was drawn from the December 2019 AARP Bulletin.
Jacqueline Rogers has championed the need to maintain the development direction established by the Escambia County Comprehensive Plan and particularly the Midwest Sector Plan that helps prevent urban sprawl into northern Escambia County. She and her group won a small battle in the management of development after a Florida Department of Administrative Hearings decision that an amendment to the County’s Comprehensive Plan did not meet all the criteria for change and was consequently recommended as “not in compliance.” The amendment apparently would have made agricultural land available for subdivision development.
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 Perdido Key Area Chamber of Commerce announced new leadership at its Annual Meeting & Awards Brunch on November 22, 2019. Tracy DeVack of Navy Federal Credit Union took over as Chairman of the Board of Directors from Jim Beran of Gilmore Services while Dana Pagador will continue as President of the Chamber Staff; Marketing and Communications Manager Emily Etscheid, however, will be leaving the staff in January 2020. The Chamber also revealed a positive balance sheet as it began its 35th year celebration.
Florida State Park rangers are conducting “prescribed burns” of forested areas in Big Lagoon and Tarkiln Bayou State Parks. As the Pensacola News Journal’s December 26, 2019 article “Prescribed burns are needed for forest health” noted, Smokey Bear may have been too effective in his message to prevent forest fires, a message changed to “Only you can prevent wildfires” almost 20 years ago. A camper or hiker started forest fire could be terrible, but a prescribed burn begun by trained professionals serves two purposes: “It promotes regeneration and regrowth like natural fires do. It also clears out fuel for wildfires, which gives firefighters a much greater chance of containing them.” If you detect a bit of burning wood smell in the air while driving on Gulf Beach Highway or Bauer Road, it is most likely the result of good forestry management in action. The article is by Jack Payne, the University of Florida’s vice president for natural resources and agriculture, and is available at pnj.com.
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.
For the past several months, “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: very high tides earlier in the month had swept away part of the dune structure and left a five foot cliff where there had previously been a gradual slope to the beach. More surprising was the high tides had revealed a large wooden structure, most likely the end of a previous beach access boardwalk that had been covered by sand for many years. Assisting in this sampling were several students from the University of Alabama as part of a field trip led by their geology professor.
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 section of Old Corry Field Road between Barrancas Avenue and Navy Boulevard has been reopened to through traffic following the effective completion of the new bridge across Jones Creek. The section is one of the access routes to the Warrington Office of the US Postal Service and of course used often by nearby residents.
How many pounds of red snapper were caught in Alabama waters by recreational anglers in 2019? According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, 1,050,651 pounds were caught in the 38 day season, just shy of the 1,079,513 quota. For more information go to the November 2019 Outdoor Alabama Weekly article “Alabama Snapper Anglers Stay Within 2019 Quota” by David Rainer at outdooralabama.com.
How many people in our area work for Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU)? According to the November 7, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “When will Navy Federal hit 10,000 employees?” by Madison Arnold, NFCU is the area’s largest employer with almost 8,200 people and expects to reach 10,000 by about the beginning of 2023; the second largest employer is Baptist Healthcare with over 6,600. The expansion of the NFCU campus in northwest Escambia County is “transformational” and worth a drive to appreciate the scope of construction. To access the article, go to pnj.com.
The proposed Perdido Key public beach access on the 4-acre property just east of the Crab Trap Restaurant seems poised to move forward. According to Tim Day, Escambia County’s natural resources management director, the “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service largely signed off on it.” The latest proposal calls for 37 parking spaces and a Mobi-Mat for dune walkover. A final draft plan is being developed and the “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service still ‘has concerns’ regarding a restroom at the site.” Project funding must be committed and the Seafarer Condominium’s circuit court petition against the project resolved. For more on the issue, see the October 22, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “Perdido Key beach access plan clears critical hurdle, cost and time line still unknown” by Jim Little at pnj.com.
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.
The June 2019 Florida Department of Environmental Protection document “Critically Eroded Beaches in Florida” altered the declared status of Perdido Key beaches. Whereas all beaches from the National Seashore to the Alabama border had previously been designated as “critically eroded,” only the eastern three miles (approximately to the entrance to the Perdido Key State Park East Use Area) are now so designated – with the western portion no longer considered eroded. The Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore is designated as “non-critically eroded” as in previous documents. The “Critically Eroded Beaches in Florida” document is available at floridadep.gov.
Gulf Islands National Seashore announced a $5 increase in entrance fees for 2020, from $20 to $25 per vehicle, $10 to $15 per person, $10 to $15 per motorcycle and $40 to $45 for the park-specific annual pass. The increase will be used to fund park maintenance and applies to all 112 parks that charge an entry fee. For more on the issue, see the September 27, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “Why fees at Gulf Islands National Seashore will go up starting in 2020” by Melissa Nelson Gabriel at pnj.com.
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.
At its September 5, 2019 meeting, the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution recognizing a State of Florida FDEP study grant concerning the Pensacola Pass Management Plan and appropriated the required matching funds ($103,750) for the project. The grant helps move forward plans to deposit sand dredged from Pensacola Pass onto the Perdido Key Area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore instead of off-shore. The generally westward migration of sand in the region should help replenish the beaches of Perdido Key, much of which are listed as critically eroded. For more information on the Pensacola Pass Inlet Management Plan, see the February 7, 2018 Pensacola News Journal article “New plan would ‘naturally replenish’ erosion on Perdido Key beaches” by Melissa Nelson Gabriel at pnj.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 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.
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.
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..
Many Florida waterways are affected by invasive plants such as hydrilla, water hyacinth and water lettuce. According to the November 3, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “PWC critics plead: Don’t poison lakes” by Ed Killer, the plants have infested 94% of Florida’s public freshwater lakes and required over $17 million for plant control in 2017-2018. Manual removal is effective but expensive; herbicides are effective but controversial.
Another recently publicized issue is use of Florida waters by the multinational company Nestle for some of its spring water products. According to the October 25, 2019 Miami Herald article “Nestle wants to take Florida’s drinking water for free, leaving us high and dry” by Carl Hiaaven at miamiherald.com. Nestle purchases the water from a company called Seven Springs which draws the water from Ginnie Springs near Gainesville for a minimal fee. The article expresses concern about such activities at a time when Florida’s “famous springs are now in trouble” from too much extraction, diminished rainfall, and harmful nutrients.
Stormwater runoff is a concern as well because new construction often creates large paved areas where rain cannot enter the earth and instead flows into waterways. The runoff “can cause flooding and erosion, and often washes away important habitat for animals that live in the stream” and can carry “the many different pollutants that are found on paved surfaces such as sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria, oil and grease, trash, pesticides and metals.” According to the November 5, 2019 Pensacola News Journal article “FDOT is missing opportunity to address stormwater runoff on new bridge” by Barbara Albecht (president of the Bream Fisherman Association), the design of the new Three Mile Bridge does not include stormwater treatment though apparently steps were taken to “offset the pollution elsewhere in the area.” To access the article, go to pnj.com.
Nutria are large rodents introduced into the United States from South America for their fur. In the wild, they can severely damage marsh areas as experienced in Louisiana and elsewhere. Perdido Key has a population of nutria identified in the Lost Key development and perhaps elsewhere, with a large dead one found near the Theo Baars Bridge earlier this year. If you spot a nutria, please contact Rick O’Connor, Escambia County’s Sea Grant Representative, at [email protected].
Beach vitex is an invasive plant that can displace native vegetation such as sea oats. It has been identified on River Road and reduced twice through volunteer efforts, though more work remains to be done. Beach vitex can be identified by its attractive purple flowers. If spotted, again please contact Rick O’Connor.
Nutria photo by Christian Fischer / Beach Vitex photo by UFL
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.