second annual Environmental Forum report
By Gabriel Tynes
With an increased attendance and expanded format, officials from the Walton County Tourist Development Council are calling last week’s second annual Environmental Forum a success. Event moderator and chairman Randy Harelson, who also serves on the TDC Nature Based Tourism Committee, said more than 100 citizens and environmental professionals participated in this year’s event, or about 25 percent more than last year.
“We were excited to get the turnout we did and thought it was very productive and beneficial,” Harelson said.
Friday’s agenda featured representatives from more than 30 local environmental interest groups. Each was given at least a fiveminute window to discuss their organizational activities and progress, along with display space.
“Environmentalists are so often fighting battles, they don’t really have an event to network and get patted on the back,” Harelson said. “This was our opportunity to see the changes they are trying to make in the community and the benefits of working toward a common goal.”
Tiffany McCaskill, new product development manager at the TDC, said there was “a lot of positive communication” at the forum.
“Everyone seemed to be elated to attend,” McCaskill said.
At the day-long forum, delegates from local groups such as the Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board mingled with representatives of state and federal organizations, such as the Northwest Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In addition to positive updates on environmental initiatives and activism, there were also comments and suggestions for fighting future problems. FWS representative John Henry said the biggest environmental concern facing Walton County now is nonpoint source pollution that is prevalent in runoff.
“The footprint of this type of pollution is huge,” Henry said. “But there are opportunities to make sure the growth is smart.”
District Five County Commissioner Cindy Meadows made a brief appearance to speak of environmental action on the county’s behalf. Meadows said the BCC is looking at new ordinances and regulations to control non-point source pollution and manage the impacts of development.
Meadows said the keys to such regulations would be more specific language in the county’s comprehensive plan and “beefing up” local enforcement of rules already in place. Also, the county will continue to pursue acquisitions and purchases to preserve more environmentally appealing areas.
This year’s forum was identical to the first with the exception of a general discussion at the end. Attendants were able to tie up loose ends of issues that were complicated or lengthy, or pitch ideas for future scrutiny.
Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board member Scott Jackson said the forum was a valuable experience.
“I think we can leave here looking at things that can really be fixed,” Jackson said.