By Wynn Parks
The Beach Masters are coming. They call themselves A Better Walton County, and they want to make Walton County a whole lot better. They want to incorporate the south part of the county and “develop” it.
Sounds wonderful, but did anybody ever notice how corporate people always substitute “development” for “speculation”? Some of us must have noticed, because the March 2017 issue of SoWal Life reports that the incorporation scheme—even with the collaboration of both the County Commissioners and the Tourist Development Council—met with enough resistance to send our “betterers” into a tactical withdrawal on the issue.
But don’t imagine Walton County Minutemen are dancing on the grave of unrestrained exploitation. The article goes on to quote the ABWC Beach Masters as promising to be back again next year…and from past experience, as long as it takes to wear down the opposition with meetings, propaganda and legal maneuvers which they alone can afford.
So unless Walton County looks ahead and decides how much is enough, what happens to the entire south of Walton County will be a repeat, on a whole lot larger scale, of the way we’ve seen the creeping privatization of local beaches go. Heaven forbid that those who ignore history should end up repeating it.
Controversy about beach protocols was already fulminating for a while, when the issue literally took flame on the front page of the January 1993 Walton Log—a photo of a ritzy condo’s beach pavilion engulfed in flames entitled “Officials say fires on beach suspicious.”
The South Walton Fire Department had the fire out by midnight, but the firefighters barely had time to take their boots off before they got called to douse it, yet again, at 6 a.m. The condo manager admitted the pavilion and connecting beach over walk had been items of “much controversy” that summer, adding, “I can’t say that’s why (there was a fire there).”
Kind of a duh moment considering the surrounding community’s intense, widespread resentment of the pavilion, which violated a prohibition against building on the first line of dunes. The outcome of the torching? “Condo-corps” rebuilds the facilities, pays a $5,000 fine, and the pavilion stays. Small price to pay for setting a lucrative precedent.
Fast forward to the present. Commercial and private money have already succeeded in bulldozing their claims to the beaches right through community resistance, though magnanimously allowing the public to “traverse their private beaches, sit and sunbathe on them, plus fish, swim, or surf off their private beaches.”
These days a major portion of Santa Rosa Beach’s “dry sand beaches” are claimed by various Beach Masters who lust to jam the county stem to stern with projects to max out Walton as their own private cash cow.
But wait—there’s more! As of April 1, SoWal Life announced that the “Society of Beach Masters” have “enhanced” the “Customary Use” ordinance, prohibiting alcohol, animals, umbrellas, tents and possession of fireworks. Fireworks?
So with the beach, so with South Walton…unless we recognize that what is a unique and lovely place to live isn’t an infinite resource. It’s surely not a question of jamming in more infrastructure. It’s about more taxes and more regulations. It’s about monetizing every square inch of South Walton until somewhere along the line the bubble bursts, leaving nothing but a flaccid, blousy tourist ghetto sucked dry of its grace and regional identity.
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