‘Not in a fighting mood': Geotube compromise emerges
“We want to be good neighbors,” said Ed Erbesfield, a homeowner at The Retreat. “We’re willing to give in if y’all are willing to give in.”
The Retreat has been trucking in sand westward along the beach from the western Grayton Beach access, past Gulf Trace, which is surrounded on each side by state park land, to The Retreat beaches. The sand will be used to fill these large erosion-prevention devices.
According to Walton County Administrator Greg Kisela, the project requires 14,000 cubic yards of sand to be moved across the beach to the site at The Retreat. Of that, 5,000 cubic yards has already been moved.
“We have done what we felt is the right thing to do,” said Dave Lovell, who sits on The Retreat’s board of directors. But “what we’re doing out there is causing a stir.”
The sand-trucking was seen as the most cost- and time-efficient method of transporting sand to the geotubes, ensuring the project is finished as quickly as possible, not only for spring break tourism, but also because the start of turtle season is May 1.
In response to the ongoing project, however, the community outcry has been substantial.
“It is a living ecosystem,” said Anita Page, with the South Walton Community Council. “Driving on the beach should be a last resort.”
The Retreat has been working to get permitting to put in geotubes since Hurricane Dennis hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.
“For the last five or six years … they’ve been trying to put in protection,” said Kisela. “Our beaches are very special to us. To see any destruction to them is very frustrating.”
But representatives quickly signaled their intention to compromise.
“We’re not in a fighting mood. We’d rather have the goodwill of our neighbors,” said Erbesfield.
Though the work was advertised in the paper for 30 days, as is required by law, no one seemed prepared when the trucks started running the sand up and down the beach.
The Retreat proposed running two trucks per day in order to finish the project before March 1, but those gathered seemed to prefer an alternate method.
“If sand can be conveyed, that’s what should happen,” said Richard Fowlkes with the Blue Mountain Beach Community Association.
“The only way to resolve the dispute is a compromise,” responded Erbesfield. “We followed the rules. We honestly thought we were doing the right thing.”
He asked for homeowner consent to speed-up the project using the same mode of sand delivery.
“If we put it behind us in a 28-day time frame, rather than 90 days, we’d all sleep better at night,” said Erbesfield.
But that method did not garner any support from the crowd of critics.
“You have another way to do it,” said Fowlkes of the conveyor belt. “I just feel like we haven’t been considered.”
Ultimately, The Retreat representatives gave in after Kisela said “I don’t know what you guys are hearing. But what I’m hearing is you’ve got to convey.”
According to contractor Branch McClendon, with Redfish Marine Construction, it would take three to five days to have a conveyor system up and running. The last of the sand was moved from the Grayton Beach staging area Tuesday, but Redfish Construction is still using the access to get their work trucks to the beach.
“I think that went about as well as it was going to go,” said McClendon after the meeting.
Asked for his reflection, Fowlkes said, “Nothing’s perfect. I’m pleased that they’re being respectful.”
“We’re just folks like you are. Just everyday folks who want to live in paradise,” said Erbesfield.