City preps 'declaration of emergency' for navigation channel, harbor mouth

Matt Algarin
The mouth of the Destin harbor is once again in need of dredging, according to longtime Destin boat captains. City officials say the mouth was last cleaned out in 2010.

Destin harbor is about to be in a state of emergency.

"I was advised that we will need to ask the council to do, as we did the last time, a declaration of emergency," City Manager Maryann Ustick told city leaders Monday night. "What that does is expedite the permitting process."

As of late, boat captains have been pleading with the city council to take action and clear out the mouth of the choked up harbor and navigation channel before boats become trapped and cannot take their passengers out on trips. The navigation channel in the harbor was last dredged in 2012 as part of an emergency project, according to city officials.

The Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with performing maintenance dredge work in both the harbor and the navigation channel, but city leaders say a reduction in budgets has led to the Corps focusing most of their attention on "deep-water ports," which would exclude Destin.

Longtime boat captains George Eller and Tony Davis spoke out during a recent City Council meeting.

"Let’s not wait until the fleet is bottled up," Eller said, even floating the idea of the city purchasing its own dredge.

"It's going to get more dangerous," Davis added. "Something has got to be done very soon or we are going to be in trouble."

Given the need to dredge sooner rather than later, especially with the tourism season about to be in full swing, Ustick said she has been working with the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council to secure funding for a project. They plan to request funding from County Commissioners in the next few weeks.

The city is currently performing surveys near the bridge and mouth of the harbor to determine how serious the problem is and which areas need the most attention.

City leaders will meet again March 11, and Ustick said they would more than likely be presented with a resolution to approve, declaring an emergency.

While dredging would be an immediate fix to the current problem, it's not the ultimate solution, Mayor Sam Seevers told The Log Tuesday morning.

"These short-term fixes are not the solution; the stabilization of Norriego Point is what's going to stop this," she said.