County commissioners have voted unanimously to deny George Kirvin Floyd a variance to dredge the old ferry basin on St. George Island.

At the Tuesday, May 16 regular county meeting, Floyd came forward to propose dredging the old ferry basin at 41 West Bayshore Drive. Floyd initially requested a variance Jan. 17 for the project, but discussion was tabled to allow him to negotiate with county staff on changes to the proposal.

Floyd wants to dredge the ferry dock basin across from Harry A’s to provide a harbor for the Jean Mary, a paddle-wheel boat he plans to bring to the county to use for local cruises. As a part of the development plan, he wants to construct an eight-foot wall around the site, within the critical habitat zone (CHZ), to contain spoils produced by the dredging.

The county’s board of adjustment voted unanimously Jan. 4 to recommend approval for the variance, but County Planner Mark Curenton told commissioners he opposes the construction of the wall. He told the board that under county ordinance, the 50-foot CHZ 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 against harmful runoff and would destroy native vegetation.

At the May 16 meeting, Curenton told commissioners he met with Floyd on several occasions since January, but they were not able to reach a compromise and that Floyd was returning with his plan unchanged.

Floyd’s environmental consultant Dan Garlick said Floyd decided to return with their original proposal slightly changed and offer more information in support of the plan.

Chair Smokey Parrish expressed surprise that Floyd had returned with the same plans. Commissioner Noah Lockley moved the variance be denied and Commissioner Cheryl Sanders seconded the motion.

County Attorney Michael Shuler said Floyd had the procedural right to speak and to question Curenton.

Garlick said the height of part of the wall had been reduced to four feet. Curenton said any wall built in CHZ required a variance. Shuler agreed.

Floyd said that there is evidence of erosion on the bay side of his property and that placing the spoil and constructing the wall would preserve the coastline and repair erosion. Garlick said the spoil was sand and therefore pervious and not damaging to the CHZ.

Curenton said there are allowances for erosion control but those control measures were limited to the minimum that would address the problem. He said Floyd’s plan goes beyond erosion control and classifies as development. Curenton said a request for shoreline stabilization would need to be proposed separately.

Floyd said commissioners had approved an alternative plan for the site on Oct. 15, 2015 which allowed him to place the spoils from dredging in the flood zone. He said he would construct his marina based on that approval if necessary.

He said that the 2015 proposal required construction of a drainage system to protect adjacent businesses, and spoils would be used to construct a swale with vegetative cover along West Bayshore.

Floyd asked to give a presentation about his proposal before commissioners voted to approve or deny the variance. He proceeded to give a lengthy PowerPoint presentation during which he showed commissioners a website he had constructed to explain his plans and gave them instructions on how to access it.

Floyd argued the purpose of the wall was to prevent spoils from washing back into the bay. He said he hired an engineer with expertise in FEMA’s policies to assess the project, and that the request to build an eight-foot wall was based on her recommendation.

He criticized the existing boat ramp across Island Drive from his property, saying it provided insufficient parking. “I feel like county has a lot of liability with St. George Island boat launch. This would provide safer boat launch and up to 100 parking spaces,” he said. “My objective is to optimize the opportunity.”

Floyd then offered to remove the wall from his proposal. “I would prefer there be a wall because it all has to be contained. It is a very expensive element,” he said.

He compared the wall to structures used to contain runoff at St. James Bay Golf Resort and Breakaway Lodge.

Shuler advised commissioners not to approve any part of the current proposal.

Commissioner Ricky Jones said Floyd had underestimated the amount of spoils that would be produced by his dredging project.

Floyd said he had relied on advice from his consulting engineer. “Short of doing the project, we won’t know,” he said.