There are 2 important meetings coming up and your support is needed, the April 9th Planning Commission Meeting at 5 p.m. in the South Walton Annex & the April 14th Board of County Commissioners Meeting at 4 p.m. in the South Walton Annex. Although neither agenda has yet been posted for review, changes to our current Coastal Dune Lakes Protections are scheduled to appear on each agenda. Here is a synopsis about how we got here & what is being proposed. The current protections are located in our Comprehensive (Comp) Plan, the safest place for them because they cannot be easily changed. The regulation allows for 25% clearing on any lot within the 300’ Coastal Dune Lake Protection Zone outside of the setback areas. The remaining 75% must remain untouched with a few exceptions like clearing a 10’ swath to access the lake. This formula was entered into by Walton County in 1996, as a settlement agreement with the State of Florida to ensure the protection of our “globally rare & critically imperiled” Coastal Dune Lakes. Natural vegetation allows for filtering of stormwater runoff containing various contaminants as the last line of defense before draining into the lakes. It also acts to absorb the same water at rates not duplicated by lawns or landscaping. Walton County is proposing to take this part of the protection out of the Comprehensive Plan & move it to the Land Development Code (LDC) which is much easier to change than provisions within the Comp Plan. When that move occurs they are proposing to arbitrarily choose 50% as the new number for the clearing allowance. Although requests have been made to use a less arbitrary method to establish a new percentage, as of right now, the Planning Department has chosen to ignore that public request. In addition to moving that critical protection from the safety of the Comp Plan into the LDC, a variance process is being proposed. Opening our Coastal Dune Lakes up to a variance process is a cause for great concern as no details have been provided and it is a slippery slope. There have been some legitimate problems with very small lots which could be solved by creating a small lot provision. Instead, the new clearing change would allow for more vegetative clearing & larger building footprints for new development & redevelopment for all lots. In other words, to solve a limited problem the rules are being changed for everyone. Requests have been made for the data that shows the actual number of lots within the Coastal Dune Lakes Protection Zone in total & by lake, the number of lots that are less than 1/8 acre within the Coastal Dune Lake Protection Zone & maps as visuals during any meeting discussing this issue. An additional workshop has also been requested but not granted. Asking for a justification of any new allowance to be backed up by some scientific research when making such a significant change should be essential to any decision making process. Thus far, that concept has been ignored. This summer the DEP will be assessing our Coastal Dune Lakes where 9 of 15 are already considered degraded. Remember, 4 of the 15 are entirely located within our State Parks which protect them from the impacts of development. Once a lake is degraded, the protections of the Clean Water Act will eventually require Walton County to remediate those damages and we as Walton County’s taxpayers will be picking up that expense. During the 2014 Florida state legislative session our legislators passed a resolution, recognizing the rarity & value of Walton County’s Coastal Dune Lakes. This week was the World Premiere of “Coastal Dune Lake, Jewels of the Emerald Coast”, a documentary film by Elam Stoltzfus. It was a beautiful expression of our natural resources & their importance to our quality of life and economy in South Walton. Your continued support for the enduring protections of our Coastal Dune Lakes is appreciated and your voice needs to be heard before & during these important meetings. Once our natural resources are degraded they are hard & costly to restore. Please help to keep the Coastal Dune Lakes protections strong by attending & speaking at both meetings and writing to our commissioners & planning director. The key points to keep in mind are ~ keeping the all protections in the Comp Plan, ~ that any clearing percentage change be based on a scientific evaluation, ~ that actual data be presented to the public & commissioners showing how many lots are unable to build a single family home because of the current ordinance, ~ that a public workshop be held before creating a bigger problem that will require restoration paid for by Walton County taxpayers in the future. Thank you.