Sunday, August 14, 2005

Crazy George's Land Grab?

Lesley Conn today files a superb, informative, detailed, and deftly written article covering all the complications facing federal and state officials as they ponder what to do about repeated hurricane destruction of public roads leading to Ft. Pickens and Opal Beach.

The issue is difficult because it pits man's material desires against nature's inevitability. Conn's front-page article examines alternative solutions -- all of them decidedly "short term" on a geological time scale. It's a long article but definitely worth a thorough read. Buy the paper or read it on the web before it disappears behind Gannett's lame screen charging money for archived articles.

After the jump, there is this highly revealing passage which you shouldn't miss (italics added):
Creating a man-made berm system directly contradicts National Park Service management policy. It also contradicts the federal legislation that created the park, which states that the government's mission is to "preserve and protect to the greatest extent possible the natural systems and the forces that shape them."

[Park Superintendent] Eubanks, a former road engineer, understands the concerns, which [County Administrator George] Touart has voiced to him personally.

"I've told him from a road-building standpoint, you're preaching to the choir," Eubanks said. "But there's a bigger picture. As far as an environmental standpoint, a big berm would be disastrous to the ecology of the island."

Touart considers the park so vital to county interests he is beginning to share what he calls "one of his crazy George ideas."

If the National Park Service decides not to rebuild to Fort Pickens, Touart wants to move the entrance gate very near the historic buildings at the west end of the island. The miles of beach and road leading up to the gate would be turned over to the county, which would renourish the beach and maintain the road.
"Crazy George," indeed. What Touart is suggesting, of course, is to shrink Ft. Pickens Park and turn most of it over to Escambia County.

From the date county commissioner Tom Banjanin originally mentioned him for county administrator, many have suspicioned that Touart was just a stalking horse for the same real estate developers who, 35 years ago, opposed creation of the Gulf Island National Seashore. You can be sure that if Touart were to get his way, we'd have wall-to-wall condos running the length of Santa Rosa Island, right up to the ancient walls of Fort Pickens.

Just to protect the road, you know.

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