At the Jan. 17 county meeting, commissioners tabled a discussion of a proposal to alter the landscape around the old ferry basin On St. George Island to the west of the causeway.

Property owner George Kirvin Floyd of St. George Island requested a variance to construct an eight-foot vertical board and post retaining wall within 50 feet of Critical Habitat Zone (CHZ) to contain spoil from a future dredging project.

Floyd wants to dredge the old ferry dock basin across West Bayshore from Harry A’s to provide a harbor for the Jean Mary, a paddle-wheel boat he hopes to use for local cruises at some point in the future.

The county’s Board of Adjustment (BOA) voted unanimously Jan. 4 to recommend approval for the variance, but County Planner Mark Curenton told commissioners last week he opposes the construction of the wall.

Curenton told the board that under county ordinance, the 50-foot critical habitat zone is meant to be left “in a natural state to protect the bay.”

Curenton said the request to place spoil in the CHZ would effectively do away with the buffer intended to protect the bay from harmful runoff.

Commissioners Noah Lockley and Cheryl Sanders both expressed concerns about the legality of Floyd’s project.

Dan Garlick of Garlick Environmental Associates represented Floyd at the meeting. He said the spoil would not interfere with CHZ because the project was “putting sand on sand.” He said the existing CHZ is formed of sand dredged during the original dredging of the harbor in 1959, and the deposition of spoil would not interfere with percolation.

Curenton said the proposed deposit of spoil would “definitely destroy vegetation.” Garlick said Floyd plans to replace any vegetation damaged.

Floyd then gave a lengthy presentation including the history of the ferry dock basin. He said that the proposed basin would provide safe haven for vessels during storms and would become a reliable launch site for oystermen.

“It would be an asset for the community especially the seafood industry,” Floyd said.

He said he had a letter from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services showing that the project will not interfere with oyster harvesting. Floyd showed a film of children launching boats at the site and said, “This is what’s coming and I need a harbor to put it in.”

Floyd said he had been denied permission last year to put a paddling business on the property. “I feel there is obstructionist behavior against the project,” he said. “It ain’t about making a profit. It’s giving back, trying to create something new and beautiful.”

Floyd said he would not be shut down and said he would build an RV park on the property if he could not complete the proposed project. “Put that in your pipe and smoke it,” he said.

BOA member Larry Hale and real estate agent Mason Bean spoke in support of the project.

Hale said it would create new opportunities for Franklin County.

“You can’t ask for a pick of a more conscientious owner for this property,” Bean said.

Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association (FCSWA), supported Floyd’s proposal and said that any member of FCSWA will be able to purchase a tag allowing them to launch there for $5. He said Floyd was paying for drug and background tests for oystermen who want to use the facility.

Apalachicola Riverkeeper Dan Tonsmeire said that while a harbor can be beneficial, he had concerns about the effect of the wall on habitat and community character.

“The bulwark destroys critical shoreline. You are going to have wetland impact,” he said.

Island resident Dottye Thornburg asked how Floyd would fit oyster boats in the basin once the paddlewheel boat arrived.

St. George resident Barbara Sanders spoke out against the project. She said Floyd needed to present an approved stormwater management plan and clear documentation of hardship to qualify for the variance.

“Monetary reasons are not a hardship,” she said.

Chairman Smokey Parrish ended the debate.

“We’ve been on this subject for almost two hours. We’ve allowed due process,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of concerns from the public. What I want to see is a master plan. We need facts to make an informed decision. I don’t want to go through another three hour presentation.”

Floyd asked if he could return to the next meeting with further information.

Parrish said Floyd’s inclusion on the agenda would depend on the recommendation of county staff.

Floyd asked for an “up or down vote” immediately. “I don’t want to drag this out,” he said. “Don’t think I’m bluffing. I do have a plan B.”

Cheryl Sanders replied that “This isn’t a game. We want to help you any way we can. You are either going to take what the chair suggested or it’s an up or down.”

Commissioner William Massey voted to table the discussion and Commissioner Ricky Jones seconded his motion. The board voted unanimously to table the discussion.