Seawall update from Walton County - 6/26/07
Following the passage of Hurricane Dennis in 2005, Walton County issued over 250 permits to coastal property owners to allow installation of temporary emergency armoring structures to protect their homes from shoreline erosion. This event resulted in the installation of several miles of new seawalls along the county's Gulf coast beaches. In many instances, the emergency measures undertaken did not conform to state law, and the resulting structures posed a risk to threatened and endangered species without the proper authorizations required under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This elicited consternation from state and federal regulatory agencies, environmental groups, beachgoers, and many affected beachfront property owners and managers. It also placed the county at risk of public lawsuit.
The public dialogue that ensued culminated in an Intergovernmental Agreement between Walton County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A key tenet of that Agreement was the county's application for federal funds to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan and apply for an Incidental Take Permit. An Incidental Take Permit would authorize unintentional harm ("take") to protected species resulting from future emergency shoreline protection measures permitted by the county. A companion "umbrella" Habitat Conservation Plan and Incidental Take Permit being developed concurrently by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will provide authorization for take resulting from structures installed under the county's past emergency authorization.
Walton County is now in the process of preparing the Habitat Conservation Plan. The plan will describe all of the programs and policies the county will implement to minimize and mitigate incidental take of sea turtles, beach mice, and piping plovers along the Gulf coast related to future emergency shoreline protection efforts and other county-managed/regulated activities. The Habitat Conservation Plan will include a description of the area to be regulated, the activities to be managed, an implementation schedule, and funding mechanisms.
Over the next few months, consultants will be visiting Walton County beaches to update information on physical beach conditions and natural resources for inclusion in the Habitat Conservation Plan. The consulting firm DeTect, Inc. will be performing the shorebird survey data gathering for the Habitat Conservation Plan. They will be using two small Kawasaki ATV's to traverse the beach while performing the surveys. The consultants have performed similar work in conjunction with beach nourishment projects for Okaloosa and Walton Counties. They are aware of turtle nesting season, will conduct the surveys with caution, and will avoid nests. All employees will keep identification and a copy of the authorization letter with them, as well as a company logo on the ATV's for easier identification. They will conduct the surveys only a few days each month and not on weekends.
Walton County has developed a "Guide" to help stakeholders and the public understand the goals and objectives of the Habitat Conservation Plan. This guide, available on the county's website under the Environmental Issues link on the main page, describes what property owners must do to comply with state and federal law based on their particular situation. Included is a description of the different pathways to receiving federal authorization for take of threatened and endangered species depending on whether a structure is installed under a past or future emergency permit.
Interested parties may visit the Walton County website at www.co.walton.fl.us to review the public guide, ask questions, and obtain contact information for County staff involved in the project.
For more information, contact:
Billy McKee, Environmental Manager
Walton County Planning and Development Division
31 Coastal Centre Blvd., Suite 100
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459
Phone: (850) 267-1955
Thanks for your interest in Walton County!
Citizen Services Director/
Public Information Officer
312 College Avenue, Unit B
DeFuniak Springs, FL 32435
tel: (850)892-8530 fax: (850)892-8539
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