Thursday, December 30, 2004

Beach Opens to Public Sunday Night

Escambia County officials announced Wednesday that Pensacola Beach will be thrown open to the general public at 6 p.m. Sunday evening, January 2. According to the Pensacola News Journal, Chief Sheriff's Deputy Larry Smith says beach residents "have had enough time to secure their belongings."

The 3/4-mile commercial core from the west end of Casino Beach to Avenida 10 has been open to the public for some time. Starting Sunday night, free access to the rest of the 8-mile long island community will begin when the sheriff's office takes down make-shift security checkpoints on Via DeLuna and Fort Pickens Road.

Access to Perdido Key similarly will be unfettered starting Sunday. The sheriff's office told the News Journal that the checkpoints there and on Pensacola Beach have cost about $5 million in overtime pay. All of it is being covered by FEMA, although the "federal reimbursements won't be paid until mid-2005."

So, it seems money wasn't the driving force behind the decision to re-open the entire beach community so much as grumbling from mainlanders who like to rubber-neck. An echo of some crank's letter-to-the-editor published in the News Journal on December 16 can be heard in the explanation offered by Deputy Smith, as quoted by the newspaper:
"Either the beach is open, or it's closed," Smith said. "By letting a select group in, you'd be establishing a gated community." Smith said.
And what a gated community it is! Most neighborhood street lights do not function. Mountains of trash still line the streets. No sooner is the garbage picked up than more takes its place. Sand mountains piled four stories high by bulldozers block beach views in much of the residential area. Broken glass and debris make access paths to the beach treacherous.

Traveling the full length of Via De Luna at night last week, one could count across the whole length and width of the east end of the island less than fifty lighted homes or temporary trailers. Before the storm, there would have been 1200-1500 inhabited houses, condo, and townhouse units.

With no restaurants, goods for sale, public restrooms, safe beach access, or life guards, it's difficult to imagine any lawful reason tourists or mainlanders would want to venture past the point where temporary security checkpoints were established. Morbid curiosity? Free 'yard sales' of hurricane-damaged junk? House hunters hoping for a "handyman special"? Or, was it pressure from media sources, staunchly defending their First Amendment right to sensationalize human misery for profit?

We are assured by the News Journal that the sheriff promises, "Deputies will continue to operate additional security patrols throughout the hardest-hit areas." That might be. But the risks of a premature re-opening go beyond the threat of thievery.

How soon they forget. Less than two years ago, Pensacola Beach was dubbed "Death Beach" by Chris Brewster of the National Lifesaving Association because of all the drownings that occurred in unguarded beach areas beyond the commercial core. Do county officials seriously think letting the public wander freely through still-devasted, largely dark and empty neigborhoods is going to enhance public safety -- or the reputation of Pensacola Beach as a safe and enjoyable place to visit?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i sorry for your hardship,but the whole beach should be open during daylight hours. i for one want to get back to surfing since this is the best time here to do it.

i also think that the beach should be closed after dusk to help with the thievery as you put it.

yes im a mainlander again in your words, i have property in escambia and santa rosa so i pay taxes to both. just because you chose to live on the beach i shouldnt have access to it because of the storm? you lost 1 house, i lost THREE (2 due to flooding and 1 to a tornado) yep im in a travel trailer like alot of others but its my beach also.

just wish we could go back to the days where the beach was less crowded(houses and buss wise) it was much more enjoyable then. can you remember those days? doyou remember when there use to be dolphins in bayou texar? mush nicer place and times i must say.

again im sorry for your heartache but you are not the only one going thru this WE ALL ARE.