From Walton Sun: The Coastal Dune Lake Advisory Board declared Oyster Lake in critical condition. However, legal issues continue to delay the lake?s restoration project, which has been in the works for more than a year. ?We would love to proceed with the project. Unfortunately, the program is being held up by a private issue,? Public Works staff engineer Ryan Douglas said. ?The DEP will not give us permits until we resolve the issue.? Currently, the county is involved in a legal dispute with William H. Hemby of Napa, Fla. Hemby owns land near the outfall of Oyster Lake and has applied to DEP for armorment of the outfall. According to Douglas, the Oyster Lake project interferes with Hemby?s property plans. Through the Northwest Florida Water Management District, the county received more than $480,000 in grants to perform the wetland enhancer and restoration project on Oyster Lake. Although other government agencies, including Fish and Wild Life Services and the Army Corp of Engineers, are supportive of the project, DEP will not issue the final permits until the legal matters have been resolved. ?(The Hembys) don?t want the outfall in their direction,? Director of Public Works John Johnson said. Due to the open status of the case, County Attorney David Hallman declined to comment. Attempts were made to reach Hemby for comment, but he could not be reached. Local residents fear that the lake will continue to deteriorate the longer the project is delayed. ?We have a lake that?s dying,? CDL member Meg Nelson said. ?We have a serious problem here.? Resident Tom Roach lives next to Oyster Lake and said the water quality is ?terrible and there is nothing to fish.? ?Historically, it?s been one of the most visited and popular of the lakes, because it is near the dune ridge,? Coastal Dune Lakes Program Coordinator Phillip Ellis said. ?Oyster Lake has been heavily impacted. It has more exposure to 30A than any of the other lakes.? Among the manmade impacts, a culvert along County Road 30A blocks the natural outfall of the lake. Naturally a brackish or salt-water body, the lake has slowly converted into a freshwater body. ?The flushing out into the Gulf has really changed the lake,? he said. ?Whatever species are in there have to be very tolerant.? Ellis explained that a lot of exotic and invasive species, including alligator weed, cattails and torpedo grass, have taken hold in the area around the lake. DEP tests have revealed that the habitat assessment score is very low. Fish and Wildlife fishery biologist and Partner for FWS Coordinator Chris Metcalf worked on the design of the project and helped secure funding. He explained that the hydrology and natural ecosystem has been tested and will be monitored when the program progresses. ?We monitor fish and aquatic biota, as well as water quality,? he said. ?It?s a baseline for what it looks like now.? Currently, the lake has bass, blue gill and mosquito fish, but Metcalf said ?they are not abundant by any means. It?s very low in diversity.? Metcalf said they are trying to restore the lake using Stallworth Lake as a guide. ?Stallworth has got a good diversity of fish and fauna,? he said. Cliff Knauer, who?s under contract with Walton County for grant preparation, explained Oyster Lake Causeway is another part of the lake?s problem. The original construction of the road segregated a portion of the lake. The county plans to dig out the entire road and restore the area to its natural condition. ?Oyster Lake Causeway acts like a dam. Every time the lake backs up the road goes under water,? Knauer said. ?The wetlands will be restored because they are not connected to the main body of water.? For now, the project continues to remain on hold. ?We?re concerned about this being held up,? Ellis said. ?This is a big headache for the county.? ?It?ll be a wonderful project, if we can actually move forward with it,? Douglas said.