Residents of McKissack Beach say automobile traffic is destroying their sheltering dunes.
In April, residents of the beach community, founded in 1930, had a “no trespassing” sign posted on Gulf Beach Drive, which runs south off US 98 just west of the Carrabelle city limits. After complaints that the road was public property, county workers moved the sign.
Residents of McKissack Beach say they don’t want to deny access to a public beach, but do want to protect the dunes from automobile traffic.
In a telephone interview on Monday, Sue Reed said she and her neighbors are concerned of the constant traffic on the beach in spite of posted signs stating beach driving is illegal. She said, based on license tags, much of the traffic appears to be people from outside the county.
“I don’t know how they find it,” she said.
County Attorney Michael Shuler said McKissack Beach residents have no right to bar people from the beach or Gulf Beach Road. He said the road was originally constructed by the McKissack Beach developer, and acquired by the county through maintenance and improvements over time.
According to Reed, only the paved half of the road is county property; the unpaved portion adjacent to the beach is property of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). She said the residents of McKissack Beach have written to DEP requesting automobile traffic be barred from their property.
Assistant County Planner Mark Curenton said he believes Reed is correct. He said the county road does not provide direct access to the beach, and that it is illegal to drive on any beach anywhere in the county, with the exception of emergency vehicles.
The debate over the road and automobiles on the beach became a hot button topic at Tuesday’s county commission meeting during the public comment portion of the agenda.
First, Sue Aiken of Carrabelle Beach thanked commissioners for removing no-trespassing signs from Gulf Beach Road. “It’s a beautiful beach. Thank you for keeping it open to the public,” she said.
Several McKissack Beach residents also spoke at the meeting.
Sue Hendrix, who described herself as a part-time resident of the development, said automobile traffic on the beach is increasing.
“This morning there were three campfires on beach,” Hendrix said. “You are fixing to have a real problem there with people driving their cars over the dunes. There have been cars on the beach all weekend and it seems to be getting worse.”
County Planner Alan Pierce told her campfires are allowed but driving on the beach is illegal.
McKissack Beach resident Bo May was critical of the sheriff’s office, who he said has failed to enforce the beach driving law.
“At what point do we clarify how much traffic can be inside the dunes?” he asked. “(The end of Gulf Beach Drive) is marked no driving. There is a fine listed, but the law is never enforced. There is a big problem at the end of the road. (Drivers) have destroyed the whole dune structure at the end of the road.”
Commissioner William Massey told May Gulf Beach Road has traditionally been used by mullet fishermen to launch their boats. He said it has been in regular use since 1938, and that the road was paved up to the dunes until a storm destroyed the southern end in 1962.
“Mullet fishermen rarely if ever fish off McKissack Beach anymore,” he said. “If they do, they are individuals throwing cast nets. If mullet fishermen were the only ones that used it, that wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s used all weekend, willy-nilly. What is a process to get a resolution to this situation?”
Massey replied, “I can’t stop them from driving. I’m not the law.”
Chairman Cheryl Sanders agreed. “You need to contact the sheriff’s office. We are not the enforcement arm of the county,” she said.
Reed also attended the meeting, telling commissioners “the state is very concerned about the dunes. They were out there, on Friday, investigating the loss. The five-foot dunes are gone. The water can come up the road now and destroy our homes. It happened in 2005. Some of the older houses are on the ground; only the newer ones are on stilts.
“Even the state of Florida said there is no road any more,” she said.
“If the state owns it they need to close it off,” Massey said. “When I was a boy, 50 years ago, it was paved to the end.”
In a separate interview, Pierce said debate over the beach and the road has been ongoing for at least 30 years.
Carrabelle City Administrator Courtney Millender said the beach is public and that the city leases it from DEP. She said the city has no jurisdiction over Gulf Beach Road because it is outside the city limits.
On Sunday morning, a handful of cars were parked along the unpaved portion of Gulf Beach Road including two parked directly on what remains of the dunes. The dunes appear to have been flattened for the entire width of the road. A sign next to the flattened area states that driving on the dunes and beach is illegal.
Reed said automobiles have flattened the five-foot barrier of dunes. She said many of the vehicles she sees on the beach and on the dunes have out-of-state tags. Reed said she has seen tourists chasing bears with vehicles on McKissack Beach’s private roads and even along the beach.
McKissack Beach neighborhood’s entryway is now clearly posted “No Trespassing.” She said her community is in the process of organizing a neighborhood watch.
Lesley Cox, with Carrabelle’s Waterfront Partnership said, because the beach is public, DEP requires the city have a management plan for the facility.
She said the Waterfront Partnership began work on a draft in 2010 and then asked the city to complete the document. She said the city has completed the draft.
City Clerk Keisha Messer said City Attorney Dan Hartman has submitted the document to the state. Cox said there would be at least two additional public meetings before the management plan is finalized.