EDITORIAL: How will Refuge react to latest setback?

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

It’s been a tough year for the Emerald Coast Wildlife Foundation.

In early April it lost its longtime director, Amanda Wilkerson, just days after we learned that the refuge’s hopes of relocating into the old Destin YMCA facility had been dashed.

And, earlier this week, it lost the rights to build on a county-owned parcel on Okaloosa Island, which it had leased for $1 a year for four years. County commissioners pointed out that the refuge had already asked for an extension once and that the parcel was supposed to be developed by December 2015 — as in construction would be complete. It’s never even started.

The refuge is a vital part of the community, providing education on local wildlife and rescuing and rehabilitating injured wildlife.

It is currently based out of a small building on Okaloosa Island and clearly need room to grow in the south end. The organizers have been aggressive about expanding the refuge. Four years ago, they purchased the former Sasquatch Zoo, letting some of its occupants live out their natural lives there while remodeling the facility and reopening it to the public.

It has big dreams and big supporters.

But it also clearly has a problem when it comes to charting its future course. Board member Jerry Melvin, who attended the county commission meeting and pled on the refuge’s behalf, asked commissioners to give the refuge more time.

Peter Bos, the Destin visionary who created the Emerald Grande and HarborWalk Village, has pledged to lend his support to helping the refuge plan for the future. If anyone knows how to get it done, Bos does. But the refuge will need more than a planner at this point. It needs land that meets the specific needs of an animal refuge.

It will be interesting to see what options are offered.

Homeless advocates tried for more than 20 years to find a piece of government-owned land to lease for a homeless shelter and struck out until they were handed a lease to an old sewage treatment plant on the outskirts of town. No one wanted to live next to a homeless shelter.

It remains to be seen whether a wildlife refuge, which will include a petting zoo, gets the red carpet rolled out. The Not-In-My-Backyard movement continues to make projects like this a challenge.

We’ll be watching.