INLET BEACH — A small pleasure boat beached earlier this month in South Walton County has attracted the attention of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The FWC tagged the 15-foot SeaDoo Speedster on June 17, a move that could set the stage for requiring the owner — whoever that might be — to get the boat off the beach. The notice warns the owner that the boat will be removed and destroyed if the situation is not addressed. The notice also indicates the owner will be responsible for the cost of  "removal, storage and destruction" if the FWC has to step in.

If the owner can't be found — a possibility, since no registration number is visible on the boat that lies partially buried in the sand at Inlet Beach — removing the boat could become the responsibility of the FWC. If that turns out to be case, most of the cost to remove likely will be borne by the county government.

In the meantime, the beached boat has created concern as sea turtle nesting season continues. Local resident Valerie Lofton has reached out to the FWC and the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC), which is responsible for managing and maintaining the county's beaches.

According to Lofton, both agencies are looking into the issue, but her perception is that there is some confusion about who has the ultimate responsibility for the boat.

"The basic email that we got back (from the TDC) was that it wasn't up to them to take care of it, it was an FWC thing, and they were working with FWC to get it taken care of," Lofton said.

 

In the meantime, Lofton is worried that the boat might soon be completely covered by sand if something isn't done quickly.

"When I first saw it (the boat), it was bouncing around to where if a kid went down there, he could have actually been hurt very badly or killed — and of course, a sea turtle, too," she said.

For Texas resident Charity Huber, who is vacationing at Inlet Beach, the vessel is "an eyesore."

Huber, who has been a regular visitor to South Walton for nearly a decade, said the area's "pristine and beautiful" beaches were part of what kept drawing her to the area.

"I've never seen anything like that stranded on the beach," she added. "It definitely is in everyone's way."

According to Brian Kellenberger, director of beach operations for the TDC, both the FWC and the Coast Guard are involved in dealing with the beached boat.

"FWC came down and checked it out, apparently conversed with the Coast Guard (and) determined that the boat had not been in an accident," Kellenberger said.

There are limits to what the TDC can do to handle beached boats, he added.

"As much as people would like for it to be easy for us to go haul it off the beach, it's just simply not that easy when it pertains to a vessel," Kellenberger said. "We're a municipal organization that has certain protocols and limitations on how and what we can do to maintain the beach."