EDITORIAL: Dune parks, horse parks and money

Special to The Log

Editor's Note: This editorial first appeared on our sister paper's, Northwest Florida Daily News, website.

Forget all that stuff about hard times and tight budgets. For local governments across Northwest Florida, happy days are here again. Fat wads of taxpayer cash are burning holes in politicians’ pockets.

That’s certainly how it looks. Elected officials are eyeing park projects that will cost huge sums — but which have already sparked objections related to location and funding.

In Destin, City Council members are talking about building a beach park on Norriego Point, a finger of land that’s notoriously unstable. Norriego Point shrinks, grows and changes shape at the whim of everything from passing hurricanes to routine wave action.

But never mind. A Norriego Point Management Plan calls for a picnic pavilion, a sign-dotted walking trail, underground utilities, bike racks, restrooms, an access road and parking spaces on this patch of shifting sand. Total cost: about $690,000. Councilman Larry Williges said recently the new park could be “the crown jewel of Destin.”

Councilman Jim Wood was wary. “It seems like there should be some concerns,” he said, “about building a pavilion and parking area out there in an area that can be cut through by storm surge.”

We share Mr. Wood’s skepticism.

In Santa Rosa County, commissioners are considering building an “equestrian center,” or horse park, in East Milton. The facility would include a 200-by-300-foot covered pavilion, a judges’ booth, a meeting room and restrooms. It could also host rodeos and farm shows.

The likely price tag: $1.2 million for the first phase of construction.

One commissioner noted that Escambia County has its own equestrian center. It’s been around for 11 years and has lost money for 11 years.

“We need to look a little further down the road and understand what this is going to cost and how those costs are going to be met,” said Commissioner Jim Melvin. “I think it’s incumbent upon us, the stewards of the tax dollar, to take a very businesslike approach to this and understand the total ramifications …”

Mr. Melvin was talking about the equestrian park, but his words of caution apply equally to Destin’s Norriego Point project.