Walton County

Walton County Politics

While cities and organizations in the South are rethinking Confederate monuments in the light of protests against systemic racism, Walton County is not making any moves to change. 

After public discussion, the board voted 3-2 Tuesday morning to keep the Confederate Flag flying at the courthouse. The issue was added to Tuesday’s agenda by two county residents, Jack Adair and Michael Bowden. At the meeting, Adair said while he’s proud of his southern heritage, the flag represented division and did not belong at the courthouse.

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

Local governments took strong measures to detract visitors when they closed beaches in March. 

Now, most have reopened as the state moves into phase one of its reopening plan. But with the short-term rental ban and social-distancing orders still in place, the peak season will be a bit different. And local tourism offices are sharing that message with incoming visitors. 

“Open beaches come with responsibility,” said Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis. “We want everyone to be good neighbors. Don’t be part of a potential problem, but a participant in the solution.” 

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

Walton County beaches opened Friday and people showed up with their umbrellas and coolers in tow. 

But Daniel Uhlfelder showed up in a black linen robe and a plastic scythe. 

Walton County

Yes, you can sunbathe on Walton County beaches. 

Walton County Commissioners revised their beach reopening resolution Thursday afternoon after some confusion and consternation following their original resolution which prohibited sunbathing and limited beach activities to walking, jogging, fishing, swimming, paddle boarding, surfing, and boating.

The revised resolution allows all normal beach activities allowed under the Walton County Waterways and Beach Activities Ordinance — in other words business as usual. 

Walton County

Walton County Commissioners voted Thursday afternoon to amend their emergency ordinance to close all Walton County beaches — including private ones. 

On March 19, Commissioners closed beaches to the public to discourage tourists and reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Since then, the number of tourists has declined, but there are still a number of out-of-state owners who have come to South Walton to quarantine in their second homes, according to TDC Executive Director Jay Tusa.

Make My Day PAC

Walton County attorney Daniel Uhlfelder is a strong proponent for sharing beaches. But as the world faces the coronavirus pandemic, he thinks beaches across the state should be closed.

And he’s making sure Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gets the message.

On Friday, March 20, Uhlfelder filed a lawsuit in the Second Judicial Circuit suing the governor to close all state beaches saying DeSantis has the responsibility to “initiate immediate action to cope with emerging health problems and try to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.” 

Make My Day PAC

Walton County Attorney Daniel Uhlfelder wants to use his newfound Twitter following for a good cause. 

Last year, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee filed a bar complaint against Uhlfelder alleging that the attorney was harassing him by repeatedly tweeting about the customary use issue in Walton County. When Uhlfelder shared the news on his Twitter feed, his following went from just over 400 Twitter followers to more than 100,000. 

Alexander Rea / Centimental Journey

  

A new organization — PFLAG Niceville — made up of a cross-section of people is offering support to the area’s LGBTQ communities in Okaloosa and Walton Counties.

PFLAG’s inaugural meeting was held on Sunday, drawing more than 30 people from the two-county area.

“As I was sitting in that meeting and listening to people share their stories, I just felt such a power and such a love in that room; almost like this was really needful,” said David Simmons, a professor of Humanities and Film Studies at Northwest Florida State College, and PFLAG President.

Tonia Shatzel

After six hours of testimony and public comment, Walton County Commissioners voted 5-0 last weekend to take the case of customary use to the circuit court.

The vote is the first step into declaring that beachgoers can access the dry sand areas that are private property.

Customary use is the belief that beaches have been public property as long as humans have used them. And it’s been a big issue in Walton County since House Bill 631 was signed into law in April by Governor Rick Scott.

Daniel Uhlfelder

Oct. 8 Update: Red tide blooms are still present in Walton, Bay and Gulf counties. In Walton County, there is a medium concentration of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis.  According to the latest update from FWC, there is a very low presence of red tide in Okaloosa County. 

Red tide Blooms have popped up in Walton and Okaloosa Counties according to the latest update from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). 

Tonia Shatzel

Walton County Commissioners are no closer to a customary use ordinance, but they do have dozens of public comments.

Before Saturday’s anticipated public hearing to restore public access on Walton County beaches began, the county’s attorney Sidney Noyes announced that owners of 13 different parcels of property — mostly condominium units — did not receive notice through certified mail, which is required under House Bill 631. 

"We thought we had a mechanism to capture all of these condominium units and unfortunately these 13 slipped through," Noyes said.

Tonia Shatzel

On the morning of July 14, longtime Walton County, Florida resident Daniel Uhlfelder decided to go to the beach.

Instead of rest and relaxation, he found himself in the middle of a confusing debate about public versus private property.

In a video posted to YouTube, you see Uhlfelder holding his beach chair and umbrella as he talks to a security guard at Vizcaya Beach who warns him of trespassing on the private beach.

“Can you draw a line for me where trespassing is?” Uhlfelder asked the security guard. “I want to know where to put my stuff.”

Northwest Florida Daily News

Customary Use is a big issue in the state of Florida.

It’s the belief that beaches have been public property as long as humans have used them, which is why counties across Florida have passed customary use ordinances allowing access to both public access points and in front of beachfront homes. 

In April 2018, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 631. The bill, which received bipartisan support, authorizes a person with “superior right to possession or real property” and “prohibits local government from enacting or enforcing ordinance or rule based on customary use.”

In this week’s Economic Report, Dr. Rick Harper provides analysis of recently released U.S. Census figures.

“We’ve declined in population over the years, as people have moved out to the suburbs,” said Harper, referring to the number of people living in the City of Pensacola, which is the urban core of a larger metro area including Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The metro area population estimate for 2014 is 474,081.

Christmas Project Cheer is helping to renew hope for residents in mental health treatment facilities in Okaloosa and Walton Counties. For more than 40 years, the project has brought the joy of holiday gifts to this often overlooked group of people.

One out of every four people has a treatable mental health condition. Project Cheer was established by the Mental Health Association of Okaloosa and Walton Counties to provide a little happiness  at the holidays to the area’s over 600 residents in need.