Annexing the Island? City explores acquiring Crab Island

Matt Algarin
Crab Island is a favorite recreation area, but it’s also an area that concerns many in the community due to regulatory gray areas.

While people flock to Crab Island by the boatful every year, some city leaders in Destin say more needs to be done to clean up the area.

“The perception is that Crab Island is Destin,” Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell said during Monday Night’s Destin City Council meeting. “We need to take ownership of it and clean it up so we are portraying the image of Destin we want to see.”

She went as far as calling the area the “Wild West.”

While discussing Crab Island, Councilman Jim Foreman said it may be time for the city to consider annexing the popular water spot into the city so they could have better regulatory control over the activities that take place.

Foreman said the issues are well known, so it only seems natural for city leaders to get ahead of things before the next tourist season and summer.

“Now is the time to do that,” he said.

Throughout the most recent season, talks about regulations, standards and sanitation at Crab Island dramatically increased, as did the number of food and water sports vendors selling products.

“The Crab Island that I remember from 10 years ago when I got here is different than the Crab Island today,” City Manager Greg Kisela told The Log.

He said the area has become heavily inundated with commercial activity.

Okaloosa County Tax  Collector Ben Anderson was quoted as saying “It’s more commercial than it’s ever been… now we’ve got commercialism that is possibly unregulated.”

Not only are there concerns about unregulated vendors, but law enforcement officials and representatives from the United States Coast Guard shared their concerns about the safety of those in the water during a meeting held at the Coast Guard Station earlier this year.

Some have called Crab Island a regulatory gray area, given that there are many jurisdictions in the area that all seem to have some piece of the pie under their belts, but nobody has really taken ownership.

“They are very concerned about responding to emergency calls, due to the congestion,” Kisela said of local law enforcement.

Kisela said if the city were to annex the area, it would be “stepping up to the plate” as Crab Island, for better or worse, “reflects Destin.”

Based on data from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, there were 129 calls for service to Crab Island this year, based on the dispatch term “Crab Island X2[CHOCTAWHATCHEE BAY].” A portion of the calls were for “proactive patrols,” as opposed to people calling in complaints. But there were also calls for fights and missing persons.

For now the city is doing its due diligence as they contemplate all of the scenarios for potentially annexing Crab Island. Kisela told The Log the city would be working with the state to see if it would even be possible.

If the city were to annex the area, they would ultimately have regulatory control through the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and its own code enforcement branch.

“This is pretty complicated,” Kisela said. “We’ll talk to the state and see what we can do.”