Walton County commissioners are considering a beach cleanup program pitched by 16-year-old

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

SANTA ROSA BEACH — A 16-year-old junior at South Walton High School got an enthusiastic endorsement from the Walton County Board of County Commissioners — and a promise of help from the county's Tourist Development Council (TDC) — as she pitched a pilot program for litter control on the beaches at Tuesday's commission meeting. 

Hannah Smith told commissioners she was motivated to seek permission to start the program at Grayton Beach after a recent visit to Hawaii, where she saw Kamilo Beach. Perhaps better known as "Plastic Beach," Kamilo Beach sits amid the currents that swirl around the "Great Pacific garbage patch," which capture plastic waste floating in the Pacific Ocean and deposits significant amounts of that waste on Kamilo Beach.

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Briefly, Smith's beach cleanup program will, at least initially, involve setting up a station at a public beach access at Grayton Beach from which people can take a litter basket and collect trash as they visit the beach and dispose of it in receptacles at the beach access as they leave. The city of Destin established a similar program for its beaches a couple of months ago, Smith told commissioners.

Smith said the pilot program is designed to "make picking up trash easy and convenient for everyone to help" and to "get both locals and tourists involved in keeping our beaches clean."

Smith also hinted that a successful pilot program — she's prepared to head up the effort for 60 to 90 days, she said, checking on the collection station at least twice a week — might inspire the county government.

"If it's successful, maybe Walton County will consider" a broader program, Smith suggested.

She didn't get a commitment for an expanded litter control program, but commissioners directed Brian Kellenberger, the TDC's director of beach operations, to help Smith with the pilot program.

"It's going to take her working with you," Commissioner Tony Anderson, whose district includes most of the county's beaches, told Kellenberger.

Commissioner Danny Glidewell was particularly impressed by Smith's desire to shepherd a pilot litter control program.

"I commend you for your willingness to be involved," Glidewell said "It sounds like you were raised right."

In other beach-related issues addressed at Tuesday's meeting, commissioners approved the issuance of a "request for proposals" (RFP)  for development of a mobile phone app to allow the county to handle beach vendor services for items such as beach chairs, umbrellas and other amenities at its 29 public beach accesses. According to the RFP, the app should be designed "to act as a host of information relating to beach amenities, including beach vending, beach safety ... providing consumers with a best-in-class experience ... ."

The commission voted 4-1 to issue the RFP. Anderson cast the lone dissenting vote as Commission Chairman Trey Nick and Commissioners Mike Barker, Danny Glidewell and William "Boots" McCormick voted to get the document out to the public to gauge interest in and capacity for developing the app.

Vehicles jam the parking lot at the Miramar Regional Beach Access. On Tuesday, Walton County commissioners took another step toward a a $5.5 million purchase of a nearby property that could help ease parking and traffic issues in the area.

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Anderson's dissent was based on his concern that the app would not be able to share data with the TDC website. "To me, for this to be successful, those two need to be able to talk to each other," he said.   

In yet more beach-related action, commissioners set a public hearing for Sept. 14 on a plan to use $5.5 million in TDC reserve funds to purchase a nearly 5-acre tract at the corner of U.S. Highway 98 and Professional Place in Miramar Beach for eventual use as a parking area.

The tract is within a half-mile of the Miramar Regional Beach Access on nearby Scenic Gulf Drive. The commission's vision is that people either will park at the proposed new parking area and walk or take shuttles to the beach access, whose parking lot is routinely jammed with vehicles during the tourist season.

Establishing the parking area at Professional Place and U.S. 98 also could help reduce traffic on Scenic Gulf Drive, where long lines of cars snake along the beachfront during tourist season.

Also Tuesday, commissioners unanimously approved a conceptual plan for improvements to an existing parking area on County Road 283 near County Road 30A at the edge of Grayton Beach, a popular tourist spot.

The parking lot will include a main building comprising an indoor waiting area for shuttle bus service, a covered area under which buses can be boarded, restrooms and outdoor showers to accommodate visitors to the nearby beaches. A secondary building with restroom facilities and a storage area is designed primarily for use by people who work along CR 30A and take advantage of shuttle service to work rather than try to find parking close to their jobs.

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Kellenberger told commissioners that the next steps in the process — formal design of the parking lot and its structures and getting the required permits for the work — likely will take six to eight months.

In other beach-related business Tuesday, commissioners approved a conceptual plan for a parking area on Eastern Lake Road off CR 30A east of Seagrove Beach as part of the county's ongoing efforts to provide parking and access points along and near the beaches.

Elsewhere in the same general area, commissioners gave Kellenberger permission to pursue design and permitting services for the Headland Avenue Public Beach Access immediately east of Seagrove Beach off South Headland Avenue. The go-ahead came after legal wrangling over the county's right to the property was recently decided in federal court in the county's favor.

Broadly, the area along and near CR 30A is a focus of TDC efforts to find places for parking and beach access points.

"We are always looking for more property in that area," Kellenberger told commissioners.