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Okaloosa bans bird feeding at public beaches; airport system eyes milestone

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

SHALIMAR — The Okaloosa County Commission on Tuesday approved an ordinance that prohibits people from feeding birds at public beaches and waterfront parks within the county’s jurisdiction south of Choctawhatchee Bay.

Areas where bird feeding is now illegal from the county's perspective include the county’s Gulfront beaches, Veterans Park and Marler Park on Okaloosa Island and James Lee Park by Destin.

Dayn Lacke feeds pigeons on the beach near The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island. Okaloosa County commissioners on Tuesday approved an ordinance that prohibits feeding birds on county beaches and three waterfront parks.

A first violation of the ordinance would prompt a warning, a second violation would result in a $100 fine and a third offense would bring a $250 fine along with a misdemeanor charge. Sheriff’s Office deputies will be asked to enforce the feeding ban.

More:Okaloosa County to consider ban on feeding wildlife

Proprietors of restaurants at The Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island recently told the commission that pigeons and gulls fed by people on the beach next to their businesses often fly over to steal customers’ food and cause other problems.

One of the proprietors had complained about a man known as “the pigeon man” of Okaloosa Island who for years has fed more than 100 pigeons on the beach near The Boardwalk for hours at a time almost every day.

“Our main concern is safety,” District 2 Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Ketchel, whose district includes Okaloosa Island, added, “We don’t want seagulls and other birds getting into our food at restaurants.”

Feeding wildlife often is detrimental rather than helpful. It can cause some species to concentrate so much on supplemental feeding that they become a nuisance or threat to people, according to county information.

Commissioner Nathan Boyles cast the lone “no” vote for the new ordinance. He earlier had wondered whether the ban should apply only to James Lee Park by Destin and the beach next to The Boardwalk, the two areas that have generated the most complaints about people feeding birds.

During the public comment portion of the hearing on the ordinance, 10 people spoke in favor of the feeding ban.

The feeding of birds on county beaches “needs to stop,” said Okaloosa Island property owner Dave Hancock, who added that birds are known to carry various diseases. “It’s public health. When you feed these seagulls, they’ll do their business in the sand and the kids will get into it.”

Based on feedback from local animal control and rescue officials, commissioners agreed the feeding ban would not apply to people feeding feral cats.

In response to questions from Commissioner Mel Ponder, Deputy County Administrator of Operations Craig Coffey said signs warning people not to feed birds will be posted at the county’s beach accesses.

Coffey noted that lifeguards often tell beachgoers not to feed the birds.

In other business Tuesday, the commission:

Sylvania Heights

Approved an amended and restated lease for Sylvania Heights Park, which stands on property adjacent to and owned by the nonprofit Opportunity Place shelter on Lovejoy Road. The new lease term is for a total of 20 years, with a 10-year initial term and two five-year renewal periods. The county will lease the site for free but must provide premises liability insurance and maintain the park and its equipment.

More:Sylvania Heights park reopens

Debt-free airport system

Took action that will result in the county’s three-airport system being debt-free.

The Airports Department issued an $8.92 million Airport Refunding Revenue Bond, Series 2014, to refund the Airport Revenue Bonds, Series 2003, and other debts at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport largely related to the construction of the then-new airport terminal in 2004, according to county Airports Director Tracy Stage.

The bond will be callable and redeemed without early payment penalty on Oct. 2, 2023, five years before the original redemption date.

An escrow account will be established in the amount of $5.78 million to provide for the scheduled principal and interest payments and the future redemption and accrued interest of the bond.

Paying off the bonds on the new schedule will result in about $336,000 in future interest savings and make the airport system debt-free.

“This is an amazing moment for Okaloosa County,” Ketchel said.

Crestview bypass

Approved was an almost $44 million contract with Anderson Columbia Co. Inc. of Marianna for the Southwest Crestview bypass and East-West connector construction project.

Paid for with money from the county, the city of Crestview, the state and Triumph Gulf Coast, the work will consist of building a new four-lane road from U.S. Highway 90 west of Crestview to a new Interstate 10 interchange being built by the Florida Department of Transportation, and constructing a two-lane east-west road from Hospital Drive in Crestview to Antioch Road. The overall project is expected to be substantially completed in three years.

At a ceremony shortly before Tuesday’s meeting began, Ponder and fellow new Commissioner Paul Mixon were sworn in to office and began their first four-year terms, and re-elected Commissioner Nathan Boyles took the oath of office for his third term.

Ponder replaces Kelly Windes to represent District 5, which includes Destin and Niceville. Mixon replaces Graham Fountain to represent District 1, which includes Laurel Hill and most of Crestview. Windes and Fountain did not seek re-election this year.

Boyles represents District 3, which includes Baker, a part of Crestview and the area west of Mary Esther.