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SRC Board moves to oppose Hwy 399 toll

During Monday’s Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) Committee meeting, the board moved to defy a toll proposed by Gulf Islands National Seashore (GINS). Superintendent of GINS, Dan Brown, introduced the National Park Service (NPS) proposal to standardize park entrance fees by 2017. According to Brown, the NPS created four groups of national parks, GINS falling into Group 2. According to the table, the Group 2 entrance fee per vehicle would be $20, but Brown said parks can implement fees gradually, starting with the Group 1 fee per vehicle of $15.

Tangential to this discussion, Brown said GINS staff is considering putting booths at the ends of J. Earle Bowden Way, Highway 399, to inform drivers about shore birds during the nesting season.

He said, “Every year we lose 150 birds, both adults and chicks. Last year we lost an adult sea turtle that was struck and killed on the highway.” However, he said Fort Pickens has very little problem losing wildlife because every driver is contacted at the entrance station with information about nesting shore birds and the reasons for slower speeds, thus the reason for informative booths on Hwy 399.

With setting booths at each end of Hwy 399 and the NPS streamlining park fees, Brown said GINS staff, in its initial proposal to comply with NPS fee restructuring, added collecting park entrance fees at these booths as well.

This move, he said, received the most response during the public comment period. Brown said, “Looking at the comments that have come in to date, I think it’s fair to say that that was probably not a good idea.” He said procedurally, they have to let the public comment period pass before making any changes to the proposal, “but I think it’s fair to say based on the comments we’ve received to date that component will be removed and receive no further consideration.”

Commissioners Bob Cole and Lane Lynchard expressed concern for both the shore bird population and the proposed toll.

Cole suggested the Tourist Development Council add information to its brochures educating travelers on being aware of shore birds and sea turtles. Commissioner Jayer Williamson suggested drafting a letter on behalf of the board expressly opposing tolling Hwy 399. Brown said GINS received a similar message from Grover Robinson of Escambia County by email.

Ken Rudzki, public speaker after Brown, said, “After more than 25 years doing business on Navarre Beach, I simply wanted to add that that connection between the two beach communities, Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach, is so important to both counties’ economies we can’t put a defacto toll road there.”

Commissioner Salter echoed Rudzki’s comments on Hwy 399 serving both tourism and commerce before recommending staff draft a letter in opposition to the toll for Thursday’s meeting.

This article originally appeared on Santa Rosa Press Gazette: SRC Board moves to oppose Hwy 399 toll

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