With rumors circulating wildly that plans are underway to construct a fishing pier and two-level parking deck at Grayton Beach, South Walton residents went up in arms last week.
Facebook came alive with posts about the potential endeavor, and most were against.
"Absurd!" said long-time Seagrove resident Billy McConnell.
Paul Vizard of 30A TV concurred. "Against it. Firstly, BP funds are designed for restoration, not new ventures. Secondly, a monstrous boil on this pristine landscape will bring nothing but problems, hurt wildlife from tangled fishing lines around the pier poles, litter, and the cost of upkeep. Grayton's attraction is the old-town Florida feel, that’s already been eroded from Seagrove, Seacrest and Inlet Beach. If a pier is a 'must have' for Walton, put it at Whale's Tail in Miramar," he said.
After years in the discussion phase, the pier project emerged as a flashpoint recently as Walton County’s Board of County Commissioners considered a list of projects that could be funded with BP settlement dollars.
Commissioner Cindy Meadows posted on Facebook: "This is a project proposed by the former BCC. The cost is $20 million plus maintenance plus replacement costs after a storm. I think we can spend any funds received resulting from the oil spill on many other more worthy sustainable projects.”
In a phone interview with The Sun, Meadows said the BCC ranked the pier and parking garage in 2011 as its No. 1 project to be funded with part of the funds that came from the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process resulting from the BP oil spill.
Albert Gregory, with Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, even reportedly met with former Tourist Development Council head, Dawn Moliterno, and was shown a rendering of the proposed project two years ago, said Meadows.
However, Meadows said, as far as she can tell, no more money has been spent in moving forward with the project, especially since the NRDA fund only has $30 million left, and this is a $20 million project.
"Common sense says this will not be funded by NRDA," she said.
But it could be funded another way, she said, such as through RESTORE ACT funds, which will soon be flowing into the region as part of the broader BP compensation package.
Walton County's Environmental Manager Billy McKee was at the BCC meeting when the project was originally discussed and voted upon.
"We had to come up with projects that would compensate for the loss of human use of our beaches and parks," he said. "And the public did have the opportunity for input."
He remembers that some were for it and some were against it.
McKee says now, though, that it can not be built at the state park and would have to be located elsewhere.
"It was a conceptual proposed project," he said. "And if the public is against it and doesn't want it, I doubt it would ever come about. The County Commissioners do listen."
Still, residents want to make sure they are heard loud and clear.
"A fishing pier and massive parking deck in our beloved Grayton Beach State Park might be the worst idea ever proposed for 30A," agreed Seagrove resident Lynn Nesmith. "A Taj Mahal of a TDC Welcome Center in state forest land was bad enough. A fishing pier in Grayton Park is absolute insanity. Swimming in the Gulf would be limited to prevent accidents from fishing hooks. A leisurely stroll on our pristine beach between WaterColor and Grayton would be aggressively interrupted by a massive man-made structure. 30A's hallmark view looking across Western Lake would be permanently compromised. For what? More traffic and congestion and pollution. Or maybe a big construction contract for some northerner's second cousin?"
"Grayton needs to remain the scenic natural recreation area it is," said Rosemary Beach resident Claire Bannerman. "It proved itself to gain the Scenic Highway designation, so, protect and preserve it. Grayton Beach State Park is a scenic natural gem along our coast."
"It would not be welcome to interfere with our nostalgic, old town of Grayton feeling,” said Realtor Nina Horn. “That is why tourists come here, to feel the sense of a community in walks to the beach and parks they can enjoy. If pavement comes in to destroy our vegetation and sand dunes, it would change the whole area and become more like our sister cities, which we are not!” Restaurant owner Hanie Nasri agreed, "I prefer Grayton to stay the same. It is one of the places that has its own charm. No need to mess that up."
ALL IN FAVOR?
After all the no’s, there were a few who were not as emphatic.
"While I like Grayton just the way it is, there is a certain cachet to a fishing pier and would certainly be a complement to the State Park. However, I don't see how a parking deck fits the 'flavor' of Grayton Beach," said Al Cook.
Seagrove's Brooke Gontarek said, "I don’t know about the parking garage unless it’s done in a green way like they do in Miami with lots of foliage and make it attractive. A pier might be kind of cool, but again, as long as it doesn’t detract from the small town feel."
Seagrove resident and historian Hardy Jackson said, "The pier would be at the park. I suppose the dock would be there as well. The state park has always been a 'common man' facility that allows people who cannot afford more expensive and upscale places to enjoy the beach. But if these folks want to fish, they are confined to the shore. A pier would let regular folks, who are also taxpayers, fish on, and even beyond, the first sandbar. However, the parking deck is another matter… fishing piers have been around a long time and have a certain charm. I cannot imagine a charming parking deck."