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'A heated topic': City leaders have hands full along Holiday Isle

Matt Algarin

It's not very often the City Hall Annex is filled with cheers, jeers and boos on Monday nights, but that was the case during the July 6 City Council meeting.

More than 50 people filled the seats, as they waited for an opportunity to speak to city leaders about "safety concerns" along a stretch of beach near Destin Pointe on Holiday Isle.

"Unfortunately, I had the distinction of watching another near drowning in the East Pass," said Scott Monson, who said he served as a rescue diver and is an avid SCUBA diver. "I would come before the council and ask for help. We don't want anyone to drown on our beaches."

At the root of the concern is a trench or hole that's been dug into the beach by a shuttle, operated by the Emerald Grande, which transports guests from their accommodation to a portion of beach along Holiday Isle known as Parcel B. The parcel is owned by local developer Peter Bos and others.

Those who spoke shared numerous stories where people have nearly drowned in this hole, which some said can be more than 10 feet deep.

"It's sorta a combination of panicking and currents, and this deep trough," Councilwoman Prebble Rasmwell told her colleagues.

Currently, the operators of the shuttle have marked off an area with buoys and line that designates the path the shuttle takes to drop people off. But some fear this particular area may not be the best location for loading and unloading.

"They cannot just run the ground wherever they please, one man said. "We're trying to enjoy that beach, which has been enjoyed for 30-plus years. Commercial enterprises should never take over the rights of Destin residents."

Tensions between the Destin Pointe homeowners and Bos have escalated as of late, as litigation is currently pending.

Recently Bos was accused of assaulting a beachgoer, but the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office ultimately determined there wasn't enough cause to make an arrest.

But that didn't stop a hefty debate about the matter, as accusations flew across the room.

At one point, Bruce Craul, from The Emerald Grande, told city leaders the beachgoers went as far as standing in front of the beach shuttle as it attempted to drop off passengers.

"The shuttle coming in, even when there was no one in the water, as we pulled in there, as I can show on video, people got up out of their chairs," he said. "They came into the water, as I have on video. It shows them traversing the beach doing anything and everything they can to keep the boat from landing safely."

As for the hole dug by the shuttle, Craul said "much like when you go out in the Gulf, you have to be careful. You can be walking along and sometimes it can get deep."

Craul did tell city leaders they were out on the beach testing the water depth.

Given the concern, City Manager Greg Kisela said it would be wise to look into the matter further, as the property owner is entitled to certain rights.

"I think the challenge here is, and I was just talking to the city's land use attorney, you have an underlying property owner. There is certain riparian rights associated with upland property rights; we really haven't studied that issues," he said.

The item will come back before city leaders in the near future. As for the solution, that's still to be decided.

"Clearly this is a heated topic," Mayor Mel Ponder said. "In this tension, something will get birthed."