Timberview moves barge from disputed spot
Timberview Helicopters relocated its barge Saturday from the foot of the Marler Bridge to Destin harbor and is now mulling over its next move.
“We are trying to work with everybody, but it’s been interesting,” owner Justin Johnson said, adding that the barge is undergoing minor repairs after Friday’s storm.
Johnson said he isn’t sure where he will anchor next but might consider Crab Island.
Although Crab Island is located within Okaloosa County’s new Aircraft Restricted Zone, the company maintains it was grandfathered in when commissioners approved the measure in November. That means Timberview may be able to resume flying its helicopter tours from the barge in that location.
But Johnson said he’s not sure when he will resume offering helicopter tours from the barge. His top priority, he said, is to settle his dispute with Eglin Air Force Base over the barge’s last location just south of the Destin bridge.
Eglin cited two of Johnson’s helicopter pilots Tuesday with trespassing on military land.
“We’ve been trying to be a good neighbor,” he said. “We’re not trying to make anyone mad.”
Johnson says that his barge is operating solely in state waters — not on Eglin beach land.
“We’ve gone through all the appropriate agencies,” he said. “We didn’t call Eglin because we knew they own that land, and we’re not on that land.”
Johnson said he had approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to anchor there to offer helicopter tours.
But Eglin officials say the barge’s footbridge has been resting on its shoreline and that the company draws many of its customers from the beach.
That commercial activity is against state law and puts Eglin at odds with the state DEP, Eglin officials have said, adding they might close the beach if Timberview and other vendors continue to do business there.
“Safety, as well as environmental issues and legal access at the East Pass parking area, are all concerns of ours,” said Mike Spaits, environmental spokesman for the base. “We have very limited options on how we can avoid being in violation with the state.”
Eglin has asked Okaloosa County to take action on the issue.
“Partnering with all the affected agencies and a collaborative effort with Okaloosa County is the best way we think we can approach solving the problem,” Spaits said.