“15 miles of beach…” these words from this morning’s hearing on the Leave No Trace ordinance keep echoing in my mind.

These 15 miles of beach are the heart and soul of Franklin County. While I don’t have the exact figures to look at, I’m guessing the property adjoining these 15 miles of beach bring in the most taxes… property taxes, bed taxes, sales taxes from beachfront businesses and properties. The property adjoining these 15 miles of beach are sold at the highest prices and bring income to realtors, insurance agents, title companies and attorneys involved in property sales. These 15 miles of beach are the main reason hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Franklin County; shop in Franklin County businesses; eat in Franklin County restaurants; stay in Franklin County hotels and rental houses; hire Franklin County guide fisherman; rent bikes, chairs and umbrellas from Franklin County vendors, and buy Franklin County oysters and shrimp to pack in their coolers to take back home with them.

These 15 miles of beach provide jobs to construction workers, house cleaners, pool maintenance companies, landscaping and lawn services, real estate sales and rental employees, restaurant employees and those who rent beach items.

Franklin County’s 15 miles of beach are often featured in newspapers in Atlanta, nationally distributed magazines (Southern Living, Condé Nast, and Sports Illustrated). I talk to tourists almost every day during the summer months. I hear over and over how much they love it here in the unspoiled part of Florida; how they used to go to Panama City and Destin, but stopped going there because of the crowds and development.

Yes, the Leave No Trace ordinance is very important for sea turtles who can do nothing on their own to protect their nesting beaches, but this ordinance is just as important to everyone who lives, works and/or vacations in Franklin County

If our beaches become so cluttered and littered that they are no longer the beautiful beaches we all love, the tourists will find another place to spend their money, property values will drop and unemployment will soar.

I realize that in today’s economy the county must watch every penny and be careful not to take on new projects that could add costs to the budget, but taking care of our beaches has to be our number 1 priority. Passing the Leave No Trace ordinance and advertising it will go a long way to returning our beaches to their pristine state. Once word gets out that items left on the beach will be confiscated, there will be fewer items left.

I applaud Nikki Millender and her staff for being on board and being willing to take on this new challenge. It seems to me that it would be impossible to cover the entire 15 miles each night, but if there was an unpublished, rotating schedule where a couple of miles of beach are checked and “decluttered” each night, folks will take their items in.

I also think personal items need to be taken off the beach or placed under a boardwalk. Moving beach items to the high water mark or to the dune will not help the sea turtles. Sea turtles are not aware of human boundaries and the safest places for their nest is often in or on top of the dunes.

It also seems that the items recovered from the beach could be a source of income for the county. It would be impossible to determine who the items belonged to but if all items were taken to a central location and offered for sale, the funds raised could be used to help defray the costs involved in picking them up (gasoline, wages, advertising,). I would hate to see our landfill cost go up because we have discarded items that could be purchased and used by others.

Businesses that operate on the beach should be allowed to continue to operate, although I think those who rent chairs, umbrellas, etc. should make it clear to renters that if the items are not picked up at night they might be confiscated, and if that happens the renter will have to pay to replace the item that was lost. These businesses have the names and contact information for the renters so it would be easy for them to collect any necessary fees.

It seems to me that you might want to contact Bay County to see what suggestions they might have after having their ordinance in place for at least a year. They might have ideas on the time of day they patrol their beaches, or how they handle folks who want to stay on the beach later with their items, and what they do with the items they have collected.

Thank you again for your time and consideration of this ordinance; I don’t see how Franklin County can survive if we don’t take care of these “15 miles of beach.”

Sharon Hutchinson

St. George Island