Perdido Key beach access point approved by state environmental regulators

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A long-awaited and controversial beach access point for Perdido Key may finally be able to move forward after getting clearance from state regulators, although opening the site could take the rest of the year.

Escambia County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh announced at the commission’s agenda conference Thursday that the county has received the final permit it needs from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. to move forward with the access site.

“We’re going to have 35 parking spaces,” Bergosh said. “We are going to have places for the disabled. Above all, we are going to protect the habitat. We have the necessary approval from everyone. So I want to thank the staff for sticking with this project.”

The new access point, which will be known as Perdido Key Access No. 4, will be at 16495 Perdido Key Drive next to The Crab Trap restaurant and will give the public access to 300 feet of public waterfront. The site will be the largest county-owned public access area on the island.

The site was a source of political controversy within the county commission when Bergosh began pushing to open the site in 2018 over objections from commissioner Doug Underhill, who represents the Perdido Key area.

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Development on Perdido Key is complicated by the fact that it is home to the Perdido Key beach mouse, a critically endangered mouse subspecies found only on the island. To protect the mouse, the island’s habitat conservation plan governs the development of the island.

Underhill argues that maintaining the site as a conservation would allow the county to purchase and open other lots on the east end of Perdido Key, where the other three public access sites are located, while gaining conservation credits under the habitat conservation plan.

Bergosh countered that when the county bought the property in 2013 it was for conservation and public access and that by holding it solely for conservation, Underhill was going against what the County Commission had. approved.

Underhill lost the argument with the rest of the County Commission, and last year, the commission voted to approve $228,000 to build the access point.

To complicate matters, the Seafarer Condos Owners Association sued the county in 2018 to halt development of the access site on the grounds that site approval violated the county’s land use code. The trial is still pending.

Bergosh celebrated the permit Thursday as a victory for beach access.

“When it opens, it will allow my constituents who live in District 1 access to a public beach on the west side of Pensacola in Perdido Key,” Bergosh said. “And it’s going to allow people who don’t have a boat or have a condo or have the ability to access the waterfront to go to property owned by Escambia County and go fishing, d ‘go hang out. I just think that’s the best thing.”

Land for sale in Perdido Key on May 7, 2018. As Perdido Key continues to grow, a county commissioner wants to purchase undeveloped beach land to ensure public access.

Bergosh said he would be one of the first to use the new hotspot and celebrate with a big beach party.

But the party might have to wait another year. While the county has approved funds for construction, construction costs have increased since last year. Bergosh noted on his blog Thursday that the project may require additional funding of $50,000 to $70,000.

County Environmental Programs Director Tim Day said Thursday the funding shortfall was “relatively small” but the county commission should vote to grant more funding. The county will also need to hire a contractor to build the access site, which will require more votes from the County Commission.

Day said the process could take up to seven months.

The Seafarer Condos Owners Association is also watching the county’s actions closely. Lawyer Will Dunaway told the News Journal on Thursday they were disappointed the Department of Environmental Protection had not assessed the project’s negative impact on beach mice.

“Because of this critical omission, we are seeking advice from the USFWS (US Fish and Wildlife Service) on whether to challenge the permit by requesting a Department administrative hearing,” Dunaway said. “Of course, the county’s appeal to enact a self-development order is still pending in the Circuit Court and the county seems determined to press ahead with this pending appeal, knowing that it may have to remove any infrastructure if the judge sides with our legal position that the development order was issued improperly.”

Jim Little can be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.

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