Much of the foliage, trees and the entry signs to and from Navarre Beach are the product of a group of dedicated volunteers who are Beach Beautification Committee (BBC) members of the Navarre Beach Leaseholders and Residents Association (NBLRA.) Similar to many other committee projects in Navarre, the BBC existed to meet a need that was not being met elsewhere. Last week, all of the current BBC disbanded after a three-hour meeting with District 4 County Commissioner Rob Williamson. “We just agreed to disagree,” BBC member John Lewis said at the County Commission meeting on Monday.
The slides depicting the history of the BBC shared with the county commissioners during the meeting included a slide that read: “Always thought “we” were working together as a team” and that “based on current guidance, this BBC thinks it’s best for us all to turn operations over to the SRC.” And, “Bottom line” BBC isn’t much fun anymore.
Commissioner Rob Williamson responded by telling John Lewis and Larry Sims who gave the PowerPoint presentation that they were filling a need, “like the Navarre Garden Club.” Rob Williamson also said that he was thankful for volunteers who were “willing to step up and fill a gap.”
Rob Williamson explained his vision of volunteer efforts.
“Even though we have volunteers – we need to make sure we have accountability in place – we can’t pick and choose when we have accountability – personal relationship or not – has to be fair across-the- board.” Rob Williamson also said that when you don’t have accountability, like the Pace Fire Department and the Okaloosa TDC, “you can put the county at risk.”
His remarks were reminiscent of when he called into question the finances of the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center, also
a volunteer organization. Commissioner Jayer Williamson agreed with the need for accountability but also acknowledged the BBC’s unique role.
“There has to be guidelines for county oversight because we are spending tax payer dollars,” he said. “However, I know that the people who live on the beach put their heart and soul into where they live and they will know best what needs to be done on Navarre Beach – not five county commissioners that are sitting around daises (raised platforms).”
Rob Williamson hoped they would reconsider their decision to ‘ride off into the sunset.’ He told them, “Navarre Beach is better off because of your efforts and Santa Rosa County is better because of your efforts,” Rob Williamson told the group. Further, he said that regardless of the group’s decision, Santa Rosa County would continue improving service levels.
County Administrator Tony Gomillion indicated he would like to continue with the same arrangement that was in place, with the current company handling the beach maintenance until possibly May, when the medians would be done on U.S. Highway 98 and wrap that up together with maintenance near Tiger Point. Rob Williamson he respectfully disagreed with Gomillion. “I feel like the agreement for services – in District – should be administered by Santa Rosa County.”
The BBC has been working on budgets approved by the TDC that are submitted and approved each year. The committee hires contractors and contributes many volunteer hours to make the dollars stretch even further. “When someone some submits a budget and it is approved, I don’t think we should micromanage who they work with as long as the work is getting done. No other department that I know of is micromanaged in the same manner,” TDC director Laurie Gallup said in response to hearing of the recent scrutiny of the BBC.
County attorney Roy Andrews said that he could not identify where there was a formal agreement with the BBC to do the work they performed on Navarre Beach. However, a TDC meeting in 2014 reflected that Economic Development Director Shannon Oggletree had submitted a $50,000 budget for the approved work of the BBC for the 2015 budget and that nearly the same amount of money had been approved the year prior.
Navarre Beach Leaseholder president, Gary Buroker addressed the commissioners and told them that the BBC has given a lot of their time talent and money and said he couldn’t imagine what would happen to the ongoing Navarre Beach beautification efforts rather than if they were not there overseeing the many projects.”
Buroker was taken aback, however. “You are suggesting taking volunteers that have taken their money and time and replacing them with taxpayer dollars. We are really struggling with that,” Buroker said.
“We have had a process in place for 10 years – where they were getting their projects approved, there was a process to getting the bills paid – and it worked. And now – we are saying maybe there is a way to do it better, but it just shuts everything down. We can’t continue on until we work through that – really? – what is the risk?” Buroker concluded.
Meanwhile, no BBC action toward beautification is allowed to happen until further notice, not even any plant watering. Nor have costs been identified to pay for the volunteer efforts previously performed by the BBC. Any action was moved to the March 7 meeting to allow the county commissioners more time to look into the issue. No backup documentation was provided in the meeting package.
As Navarre Press has previously reported, the BBC began in 2005 after the hurricanes devastated the island and there wasn’t much interest or effort from the county to clean up the island, or make it beautiful for residents and guests alike.
The committee started under the direction of John Conner who asked for volunteers from the NBLRA to help him develop a plan, and the Beach Beautification Committee was born. The group met at Conner’s house where he unveiled his preliminary plan. Phase I would concentrate on the bridge entrance at U.S. Highway 98. “It is the first thing that visitors see when they travel to the beach,” Conner said. “I knew we would get the most for our money if we started there.”
Conner’s plan was to plant palm trees, native plants and around the entrance. New plants were added to the median at U.S. Highway 98. He also planned to have irrigation installed.
The BBC under Conner’s tutelage, raised $70,000 from area businesses and leaseholders initially. The group has raised more than $150,000 in 10 years and the county has been contributing nearly $50,000 a month for the last few years from bed-tax dollars through the Tourism Development Council. .
“The TDC wanted to make improvements on the beach for a long time,” Ira Mae Bruce said. “It was timely that John came along with a plan and a committee of people who cared. I encouraged the TDC to fund the yearly maintenance.”
“Ira Mae’s efforts were instrumental in making this whole effort a success,” Conner said. The last piece of the entrance effort was painting the welcome to Navarre Beach sign.
Over the years the BBC has accomplished a lot by leveraging the funds provided by the Tourism Development Council:
- Removed 265 tons of concrete and trash left on the beach after Hurricane Ivan while renting their own tractor,
- Installed irrigation along the causeway,
- BBC sponsors Islands and medians,
- Installed and maintains 29 Trash Cans,
- Provides and replaces 60,000 pet poop bags annually,
- Installed solar lights along walkways,
- Planted/watered o/a 220 palm trees,
- Installed signs at both entrances and maintains them,
- Installed 38 Islands/benches on Gulf and White Sands Boulevards,
- Watered trees/plants by using an old pumper truck from Fire Department,
- Installed trees/plants at the Navarre Beach Water Department,
- Initiated a Hall of Donor’s Island at Pavilion,
- Installed trees/plants at the Fire Station,
- Installed solar lights West End
- Tree-planting partnership with Juana’s Pagodas,
- “Water a tree” program established by BBC/citizens,
- Plant seasonal themes/flowers for Navarre Beach front entrance, and
- Trimmed trees in front of old Holiday Inn.
As seen in the Feb. 25 issue of Navarre Press. Click HERE to subscribe for as little as $38 per year.