DESTIN — City officials cannot afford to serve as “dune police” at Norriego Point, City Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell said Thursday.
In a post on her council Facebook page last Saturday, she shared photos of a handful of people walking on or sliding down a portion of the dunes that are part of the point’s massive restoration project.
“Really??? Fence pulled down and sliding down Norriego Point dunes already,” an exasperated Ramswell posted.
The revelers — adults and children — had either climbed over or scrambled under orange construction fencing that runs along the bottom harbor-side section of the dunes.
While people still are allowed to pull their boats up to much of Norriego Point and walk on the shore, “The construction fencing is up to keep people out” of the dune area, city spokesman Doug Rainer said.
Last Saturday’s trespassers also failed to obey posted signs that read, “Please no walking on dunes. Restoration in progress.”
Their adventures on the large mounds of white sand occurred shortly after the completion of the first phase of the more than $12 million Norriego Point stabilization and recreation project.
On Thursday, Ramswell said she has heard occasional reports of people walking or playing on the dunes since the Norriego Point project began last October.
“I’ve heard rumors (about such activity), but not to this level” she said.
She said she reported last Saturday’s trespassers to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.
“They went out and issued a trespass warning and replaced the fence, and placed extra patrols to monitor it over the Memorial Day weekend,” Ramswell said. “We do have signs out there, but apparently we need more. My concern is, we’re headed into the 100 days of summer when our tourism obviously increases. So we have to be as proactive as we can to prevent damage to those dunes.”
The first phase of the Norriego Point project included the addition of about 5 acres of sand dredged from East Pass to the 7.6-acre point.
In addition, sheet piling, rock breakwaters and rock shoreline stabilization structures were installed, more than 1,000 feet of shoreline were restored and new swimming areas were created on the East Pass side of the point.
The second phase, which is anticipated to start this summer, will include the planting of about 28,000 square feet of sea oats on the dunes. The oats will help stabilize the dunes and provide habitat and food for birds and other wildlife.
The last phase will add recreational amenities and features such as restrooms, a park shelter, three dune walkovers, a boardwalk and new parking spots.
The entire project, which is being paid for with settlement money from the 2010 BP oil spill, could be completed next spring.
Ramswell said she’s not sure what else the city can do to prevent people from staying off the dunes.
“You would hope people would do the right thing,” she said. “We can’t be the dune police. The city doesn’t have the money or the people to sit out there and watch the dunes. I’m not sure how we can tackle that. It’s something we’ll have to discuss on the council.”
Ramswell also pointed out that a lifeguard is needed for the new swimming areas on the East Pass side of the point.