The City of Destin is now considering the possible annexation of Crab Island. Residents and city officials gathered recently to discuss that and to brainstorm ideas on how to better manage the local underwater hot spot.
State Representative Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach is familiar with Crab Island and took the lead in organizing the recent public meeting, saying that there will be no annexation of it absent state law, " Crab Island belongs to the state, so if the city wants to annex Crab Island the state must approve that. For me personally, I would want to know where that story ends. I would probably be a little uncomfortable with annexation for the sake of annexation. I would want to know what regulatory structure would that then create."
Gaetz also wanted to know what members of the community have to say about Crab Island, which is an underwater sandbar that sits on the north side of the Destin Bridge at the entrance of Choctawhatchee Bay. Accessible only by boat (and other water craft), it’s a popular place to drop anchor and hangout due to its waist deep crystal clear waters.
For many individuals involved in the discussion, the focus is on having fewer regulations on the Island, while still maintaining a safe and clean environment.
One of the major concerns is safety. At the height of the season it difficult for law enforcement to respond to an emergency due to the mass of boats anchored together. A possible solution to the problem is to create a corridor to provide a way in. S.E.A. Chase Watersports owner Sheri Andrews says that having a corridor is a good idea, "Like I said, the only thing I would change would be some type of access point. That would be beneficial. I’m not talking a huge access; I’m talking enough to get their vessels through."
The CEO of Legendary Inc., Peter Bos, points out that providing a corridor would be helpful for people to maneuver more easily without stubbing their toes on anchor lines, but ultimately agrees that it would be a valuable resource for law enforcement and first responders, "I think there is a benefit to a corridor of some kind. That is a no-anchor corridor between two buoys between some space. It provides for a safety access to the middle of Crab Island and allows emergency vehicles or emergency people or patrols to get to the middle and stop problems before they become problems."
Eric Cadenhead, a vendor at Crab Island for the last 16 years, also thinks the corridor is a good idea, provided the boats fit through the shallow water. But, Cadenhead says his biggest concern is that there’s not enough enforcement of the laws already in place such as those that prohibit glass bottles and underage drinking, "Years ago they used to have the reserve out. We loved them. Okaloosa County Reserves, they rode around on jet skies. They kept stuff down. Just in their presence, on the weekends is when we have the trouble. It’s a lot of locals that come around from all the local towns come out to Crab Island because it’s the wild west, because we don’t have enough enforcement, we have underage drinking that’s crazy out there."
Crab Island is known for being a vacation and resort destination. Destin Mayor Mel Ponder says that whatever is done about Crab Island, it’s important to maintain the characteristics that make it a desirable attraction for local families and tourists, "If we have an atmosphere or culture out there, it needs to be celebratory, it needs to be fun, it needs to highlight our heritage, it needs to highlight our natural god given beauty, but I don’t want the encounters on Crab Island to detour them from coming back and take away from our family values. We need to celebrate everything’s that done. My hope is that we also get some sort of grasp on some of the activity out there."
While most of those taking part in the meeting opposed the annexation of Crab Island, Rep. Matt Gaetz says he’s glad the city of Destin is giving it serious consideration. Although, he’s getting ready for the upcoming legislative session, Gaetz plans to continue the conversation with more specific ideas in the future.