Coastal dune lake protection plan in effect
Local agencies in Walton County continue to work together to ensure that our coastline remains oil free and open for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.
The South Walton Fire District lifeguards have played a vital role on the front lines. This past weekend when a dozen quarter size clots of what appeared to be oil washed ashore, the lifeguards instructed beach goers not to touch it. The lifeguards then notified the State Coordinating Office where the substance was collected and disposed of.
Residents or visitors are encouraged to call and report any suspected oil substance to the Walton county Sheriff’s Office Communication Center (850) 267-2000. The suspected petroleum material is only supposed to be picked-up by those persons who have received proper training in handling it. Walton County Public Works, the Sheriff’s Office Beach Patrol Units, and South Walton Tourist Development Council clean-up crews will pick it up.
BP has also hired an independent contractor to help in the overall process. Each team will consist of ten members and they will play a pivotal role in the event tar balls or other petroleum products wash up along the shoreline. In order for crews to expedite the removal process, Walton County Public Works is placing a dumpster specifically earmarked to handle oil product at the Blue Mountain Beach disposal pit.
South Walton Fire District Deputy Chief Sean Hughes says, “Residents and visitors enjoying our beaches need to be aware of the bulldozers and heavy construction vehicles riding up and down.” Deputy Chief Hughes reminds parents to be particularly vigilant on the whereabouts of their children with the increase flow of vehicular traffic on the beach at this time.
“The Walton County Sheriff’s Office along with all local, state, and federal agencies will monitor the coastline with trained personnel to quickly respond and assist with any oil related incidents along the twenty-six miles of beach,” says Walton County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management Director Captain Mike Barker.
Contractors complete closure of last dune lake June 9
Engineers and contractors completed the closure of the last coastal dune lake that would be at risk if oil reaches the Walton County shoreline. Representatives from the Board of County Commissioners, Walton County Sheriff’s Office, the Walton County Tourist Development Council, engineering firm Preble-Rish, Inc. and contractor C.W. Roberts arrived on site to ensure proper closure of Camp Creek coastal dune lake.
The County received the necessary permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to initiate the Coastal Dune Lake Protection Plan earlier this week, and contractors began stockpiling sand to close the dune lakes and re-contour lake outfalls to prevent oil from entering the lakes in the event of increased wave action in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The coastal dune lakes are an environmental treasure unique to our community, and it has been a priority from day one to protect them,” said Captain Mike Barker of the Walton County Sheriff’s Office. “We continue to coordinate protection and response efforts with the County and the TDC, and I’m confident our community is prepared for any potential impacts.”
As part of the Coastal Dune Lake Protection Plan, C.W. Roberts crews have closed eleven of the fifteen coastal dune lakes. The remaining four were closed using booms and the additional sand was not needed. Crews have used ten thousand cubic yards of sand to protect the lakes that were identified at risk. . These lakes will be closely monitored by the Walton County Public Works Department, its contractors and engineers and will be reopened when needed to prevent lake flooding. In addition, the Sheriff’s Office, Walton County Walton Tourist Development Council and South Walton Fire District will be monitoring the coastline with trained personnel to quickly respond and assist with any oil related incidents along the twenty-six miles of beach.
“The fact that this project was completed so quickly and effectively is testament to the collaborative efforts of the Sheriff’s Office, County Commissioners and staff and the Tourist Development Council (TDC),” said Dawn Moliterno, executive director of the TDC. “We commend all of the workers who finished this critical project in such a short time.”
Beaches of South Walton is home to the largest concentration of rare coastal dune lakes in the world. These 15 lakes have been identified as globally rare and imperiled by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI). Similar ecosystems can only be found in the Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand and the Northwest Pacific Coast of the United States. They are characterized by the intermittent nature of their connection to the gulf. When the water level, through rain or other inflow, reaches a certain critical height, the lake will “blow out” and release its water into the gulf. At that point, sea water may enter to create an estuary. After the lake water level subsides, the connection to the gulf will disappear until the lake is ready to discharge once more. These fragile ecosystems are an important source of freshwater to migrating birds and other beach organisms.
The beaches remain open for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. County officials continue to monitor the situation and stay in constant contact with regional, state and federal officials including the U.S. Coast Guard.
Volunteers are encouraged to call 1-866-647-2338, for information on volunteer efforts. The Sheriff’s Office will continue to update its Facebook and website (www.waltonso.org) to keep the public informed of any new developments concerning this incident and potential impacts.