Walton Board of County Commissioners held a public hearing last week to solidify rules and regulations regarding beach vendors and activities for the coming year.

Despite some opposition, the 15-foot buffer for vendors will remain from the toe of the dune, and that is a universal rule due to Customary Use ordinance that will go into effect April 1.

The Beach Activities Ordinance now prohibits vending of tents larger than six cubic feet, and rows of chair setups must have an aisle down the middle going to the water.

Assistant County Attorney Sydney Noyes said that no food and beverage vendors are currently allowed on any Walton County beaches, but commissioners voted to allow resorts with private beaches such as Sandestin to provide food for their guests on their beach as they are in control of it.

This leaves vendors prohibited from cooking on the county's public beaches for special events.

Although District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander said the days are long gone for cooking on the beach, District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson said he likes to celebrate his birthday each year on the beach and cooks with a gas grill.

"I hate to see that taken away," he said.

Noyes assured him that the BCC is only addressing vendors.

However, Walton County's Director of Beach Operations Brian Kellenberger stated that it is unlawful to ignite an open flame without a permit on the beach, although enforcement is at an officer's discretion.

Fees and fines for violations were raised from $500 to $750 and in the case of catered special events, the vendor would be the one fined, not the person who hired them.

For catered special events, the vendor must have a parking plan for guests.

Also new this year will be the space that must be given a marked sea turtle nest. The rule in the past was no event set ups within 50 feet of a nest.

Valerie Lofton with South Walton Turtle Watch told commissioners that South Walton's beaches is nesting habitat for four of the world's seven sea turtle species, and they are endangered.

"When they hatch, they get disoriented on a lighted beach," she said.

South Walton Turtle Watch's Matt Magera told commissioners that even 100 feet away from a nest that could hatch is not nearly enough.

"It should be 200," he said. "You are putting an endangered species at risk."

Turtle walker Tom King of Rosemary Beach agreed.

"It's a sacred thing," he said. "We have a responsibility to take care of the turtles."

Commissioners voted to increase the turtles' space to 100 feet.