NEWS

County to address beach trash concerns in Destin

MATT ALGARIN

When it comes to trash on the beach in Destin, Okaloosa County Public Works Director John Hofstad told city leaders he’s heard his fair share of backlash.

“We’ve taken some criticism, and rightfully so,” he said during Monday night’s Destin City Council meeting. “We do not turn our backs; the criticism will only better help us do our jobs.”

Hofstad and other representatives from the county joined city leaders to discuss what could be done to improve beach cleaning services in Destin, which have caught the ire of a few councilors as of late, as well as the storage of beach trash in the city.

As is stands now, the county’s public services department is tasked with cleaning roughly 6.5 miles of the city’s beaches with a mechanical cleaner, after they took over the beach cleaning contract earlier this year. The trash has been stored at the city’s public services yard along Commons Drive, and councilors Prebble Ramswell and Tuffy Dixon have been outspoken about the matter.

Ramswell told her colleagues during the city’s July 7 meeting that storage of trash on city property could pose a health concern, while Dixon said he didn’t want to see the city turn into a “garbage dump.”

Hofstad said that his crews are on the beach twice a day, five to six days a week collecting trash, but they face a variety of challenges. Mainly beach chairs, umbrellas and pop-up tents that dot the sugar white sands.

“We don’t have an ordinance for the Destin beaches that regulates beach chairs and umbrellas before a certain time,” he said, adding that the county is not allowed to remove the property like they can on Okaloosa Island beaches. “A lot of what these visitors do is come and set their canopy up and leave the stakes in then come set it up the next morning. Those are the obstacles we have to deal with.”

Another issue crews have to work around are the rules and regulations associated with turtle nests, as state and federal restrictions dictate when they can use mechanical equipment on the beach.

As for the storage of trash, Hofstad said his team originally wanted to use the Airport Property, but they were unable to do so, which led them to storing the trash, before it’s transported to Fort Walton Beach, on city property.

“This was a coordinated effort with your staff,” he added.

All told, Hofstad said there are 175 trash cans on the city’s beaches. On a typical day, he said they remove approximately 3,100 pounds of trash from the beach.

Given the backlash from having visible trash on city property, the county and city have come to an agreement to store the trash in an area where it’s hidden from view. The agreement was supported by a unanimous vote.

“I still don’t like the idea that we are going to be storing garbage like this on the city’s property, but I do see this as a temporary arrangement,” Dixon said. “I want to make sure whatever we are doing we are making it better over time, and by over time, I mean somewhere else.”

“I wish I could have guys out there like ball boys at Wimbledon, perched down on one knee grabbing the trash before it hits the ground,” Hofstad added. “We’ll look to advance this to find a better solution. You have my word.”