'CRAYON ON THE MONA LISA': Geotube installation project stirs up sand, controversy
January 20, 2012 2:53 PM
Gulf Trace homeowners are imploring The Retreat to live by The Golden Rule.
“We’re a unique subdivision,” said Ron Lewis, a Gulf Trace homeowner. “We are totally surrounded by state park and the Gulf.”
But for the past four weeks, the peace at Gulf Trace has been disturbed by dump trucks using the beach as a thoroughfare to deliver sand from Grayton Beach to The Retreat, where the sand is being used to fill the geotubes.
Geotubes are sand-filled tubes of fabric used as a buffer from the Gulf, to act as tourniquets to stem the process of beach erosion. Of the approximately 2,700 feet of The Retreat’s gulf front property, approximately 1,700 will have geotubes installed, according to Dave Lovell, past Retreat Homeowners Association president and current board member.
In order to get the sand required to fill these large sand barriers, there are two options: it can be trucked in, or it can be sent via conveyor belt to the beach. Redfish Marine Construction, the contractor for the project, is using the former method, and is using the western beach access at Grayton Beach as the staging area for the trucks to drop off the sand they have dug out along the beach to accommodate these geotubes, and take back the white sand with which to fill them.
(This is a photo taken by Ann of the pile of sand at the area where the dump trucks enter to be filled up at Grayton. This entry to the beach is at the end of Defuniak Street)
“(A chute) is a possible method,” said Lovell. But, “what we’re doing now is preferable.
“It was the best method for this project,” said Branch McClendon, contractor with Redfish Marine. “We are following permitted guidelines. The DEP doesn’t allow you to bring sand over an existing dune. That’s why we’re using the trucks.
“It’s armoring a property and renourishing the dunes,” he added.
“I don’t blame anybody for trying to protect their property from the elements,” said Edmond Alexander, a Grayton Beach resident. But, he added, they’re “staging it all from Grayton, and it’s destroying all of it from here.”
Where the sand is being deposited is an “OPA or otherwise protected area,” according to Alexander. The Coastal Barrier Improvement Act of 1990 established OPAs to be public or private land held for conservation purposes.
The construction equipment is leaving in its wake huge tire ruts and malcontent.
“The sand is being decompacted, tilled, essentially. It makes the beach much more vulnerable,” said Jan Rieveschl, a Gulf Trace homeowner.
“It’s like opening the Louvre and letting people use crayon on the Mona Lisa,” he added. “You can wipe it off in the morning, but it’s the very idea.”
Additionally, with trucks running Monday through Saturday, from about 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 or 4 p.m., for the past four weeks, it has been difficult for wintertime visitors to enjoy such an attraction.
The project’s permit of coastal construction was issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and a permit to drive on the beach with “mechanized equipment … to enhance dune restoration” was issued by the Walton County Code Enforcement Office.
“Although my office was not involved in issuing the beach access permit, we started looking into the concerns of our constituents the moment we began receiving emails, calls and walk-ins regarding the Geotube project at The Retreat, and we continue in that process,” said Walton County Commissioner Cecilia Jones. “However, it is common practice to allow entry through one of our beach accesses as long as they have all the proper State permits in hand. The magnitude of this project has undoubtedly impacted the community between The Retreat and Grayton Beach, and we are trying to find a way to mitigate that impact and satisfy all concerned.”
The homeowners of The Retreat and at Gulf Trace can agree on one thing — that it is vital to protect the beaches of South Walton.
“Why wouldn’t they protect it?” April Rieveschl said.
“We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got — we’re just trying to make everybody happy. We are a local company. This is our backyard too,” said McClendon.
The demand of the Gulf Trace homeowners is simple, according to Jan Rieveschl, “Respect our property just as you expect us to respect yours.”
AGAIN THE COUNTY COMMISSIONERS AND THE WALTON COUNTY ZONING DEPARTMENT ALONG WITH THE STATE ENVIRONMENTAL DEPARTMENT HAVE ALLOWED GRAYTON BEACH AND ITS OWNERS, ALONG WITH ALL OF THE BEACH FRONT COMMUNITIES BETWEEN GRAYTON AND REDFISH TO "PAY" IN BOTH DEEP BEACH SAND RUTS AND OUR PEACE AND QUIET FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS SO REDFISH CAN FILL ITS SAND TUBES,