Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

County Plan Will Prioritize Work on Beach Accesses

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

County Plan Will Prioritize Work on Beach Accesses

Article excerpt

Byline: Lisa Woods, Shorelines staff writer

Closed public beach accesses in Ponte Vedra Beach and elsewhere in St. Johns County will be studied and placed on a waiting list as county beach officials come up with a priority system to determine which ones are opened first.

Complications ranging from lack of funds, proximity of the accesses to one another and lack of beach parking surround opening the 12 closed public beach accesses along Ponte Vedra Boulevard, a stretch that parallels the ocean and runs from the Duval County line south into St. Johns County.

Dave Williams, who supervises beach operations, said a movement to open the accesses in Ponte Vedra Beach wasn't the impetus for the beach management plan, which he presented a second time to county commissioners for their comments last week.

He said pedestrian beach access countywide needs improvement, particularly in the northern sector, where some areas span 4 miles or more with no public facilities. Williams said only 53 of the 170 county-owned accesses are open. In Ponte Vedra Beach, three of the 15 platted public beach accesses are open.

"Some are blocked, disguised or encroached upon [by] adjacent landowners to the point that the public is unaware of their existence or is unable to use them," Williams said.

Limited beach access in Ponte Vedra Beach resurfaced as an issue during the summer, when beach access advocates lobbied the County Commission to open the walkways that either are unmarked, impassible or disguised by vegetation.

The beach plan, which has been seven years in the making, doesn't offer specific plans to open any of the accesses along the boulevard.

Opening those accesses face several obstacles, Williams said. For example, the state Department of Environmental Protection won't allow some of the vegetation to be cleared, and in some areas, about four accesses are within a city block of each other, making it impractical to equip each of them with a $15,000 dune walkover and trash bin.

In addition, the lack of beach parking was cited as a reason not to open many of the accesses.

"If no beach parking or facilities exists, the only person benefiting is the property owners," Williams said. …

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