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Opponents To Clear-Cutting Won’t Give Up

Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media
Save Our Soundside President Dara Hartigan speaks at the town hall meeting Sunday, July 25.

The citizen activist group Save Our Soundside hosted a town hall meeting Sunday afternoon to discuss “next steps” after Santa Rosa County commissioners voted 4-1 this month to allow clear-cutting in their land development code.

One of those next steps could be through the courts.

“We’re not going to give up,” Save Our Soundside President Dara Hartigan said to a crowd of about 75 in the Tiger Point Community Center. “We’ve got to get this done one way or another and a lawsuit may be the way we have to go.”

The town hall speakers included Barbara Albrecht, director of the Panhandle Watershed Alliance, Carmen Reynolds of Santa Rosa’s Water Future and Chance Johnmeyer of Recall Florida who sent a video message saying the county commissioners’ ethics were “bankrupt.”

All of them urged the audience to get involved by signing petitions and attending commissioner meetings.

“When you know better, you do better,” said Abbey Rodamaker, a local resident who became an activist a few years ago when she found an undisclosed landfill on land she purchased in Gulf Breeze to build a home.

Former Pensacola City Councilman Marty Donovan offered his story of helping to establish the city’s stormwater utility fee and said he’d be happy to help Santa Rosa citizens if that’s a path they want pursue.

“You’re going to have to stop being polite,” he advised.

On July 13, Santa Rosa County Commissioners rejected the county’s zoning board recommendations to require developers to keep 25% of subdivision properties natural. More than 100 residents showed up to the nine-hour meeting, most of whom were against the board’s vote.

Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media
Residents sign petitions and gather reading materials at the Save Our Soundside town hall meeting.

Hartigan and Save Our Soundside members have sent numerous emails and letters to the board. They all went unanswered, she said.

“We present scientific evidence, but it doesn’t matter,” she said. “They (commissioners) don’t want to hear anything that doesn’t benefit special interests.”

It may be a bit more difficult for citizens to speak out on the issues since commissioners changed their meeting format which includes capping meetings at five hours with a one-hour block of time for public comment. And people can only speak on agenda items during the public forum.

Besides a lawsuit, raising money to buy land is another option the group to combat clear cutting. Hartigan said there could be a potential partnership with Conserve Florida since it has recently established a Northwest Florida council.

And the issues don’t just exist in the south-end of the county. While Save Our Soundside originated out of concerns for the developments on the peninsula, Hartigan said the group stands for all of Santa Rosa County.

Craig Brice and her husband live in Paradise Bay in Gulf Breeze. They went to the meeting out of curiosity.

“It was very informative and I think the county commissioners need to rethink their stance on clear-cutting,” she said. “I’m definitely for the lawsuit and I hope they’ll be able to do this.”

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.