After three public meetings and two staff meetings, the revised beach activities ordinance will come before county commissioners Jan. 8.
From beach vendors to dogs to tents left on the beach, “You’ve got everything to do with the beach in one ordinance,” said County Administrator Gerry Demers.
The ordinance was revised, according to Demers, to make sure it is clear, understandable, and enforceable.
“It’s only to clarify,” he said. “Not to make any changes the public or staff wants to make.”
The biggest change in the draft will concern pet-owning visitors and “whether they want to allow visitors to have pets on the beach,” said Demers, who presided over the three public workshops for ordinance changes. “The only real big one is the one about the dogs.”
If the county votes to allow dogs on the beach, something Demers said the Tourist Development Council board and the public support, visitors would pay a sum close to $75 for a 30-day pass., though the amounts are yet to be set.
Permits for residents’ dogs are $30 a year.
Another clarification will deal with beach vendors.
Those gathered at the third public workshop, held at the South Walton Courthouse Annex, were focused on this aspect of the ordinance: Some were concerned about protecting the beach and some were concerned about protecting the businesses.
Sharon Maxwell, head of the South Walton Turtle Watch, wanted to make sure turtles would have space to nest around the white vendor boxes.
“Stacks and stuff must be 10 feet apart,” she said.
She also asked that there be educational efforts about turtle watch for visitors asking them not to set up before 7 a.m. during turtle season, May 1 to Oct. 31, to give the volunteers of the watch plenty of time to identify and mark nests.
The vendors gathered did not find this part troubling, as they wait for the OK to set up beach chairs and other conveniences, but they were vexed that the county reiterated a ban on the use of electricity in vendor huts on the beach. The vendors use the electricity for credit and debit card transactions, mostly.
Demers said any permits for running electricity to the beach must go through the state.
“We legally can’t issue a permit to allow you to do that,” he said.
Set forth in the new draft, violations will be met with a fine, rather than expulsion from running the business on the beach.
In other meeting discussion, South Walton Fire District stated that bonfires are not allowed directly on the white sand. If a group wants to have a bonfire, the cost for a 24-hour permit is $50, and the container for burning the wood is to be approved beforehand by SWFD.
Sammy Sanchez with SWFD, which takes responsibility for every open flame on the beach, said “anything that launches into the air and explodes is illegal,” but fireworks will be allowed only with a $100 permit per event.
Changes to the beach driving permits section will be minimal, with the most notable that the charter vehicle fee will increase from $125 to $200, not including a $10 processing fee. Fifteen charter vehicles permits will be available annually, and if more are applied for, a lottery will be necessary to award the permits.
In accordance with Leave No Trace, all items must come off the beach by sunset. If a South Walton resident wants to leave chairs, a kayak, or any difficult-to-remove item, he or she can seek a permit, though the general rule is that everything must come off the beach.
The beach activities ordinance revision will come before the BCC for final approval Jan. 8 at 4 p.m. at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.