by Sammi Sontag
In the Escambia County Commission’s public forum on Thursday afternoon, an unnamed activist group tagged on their right arms by aqua armbands spoke out against The Escambia County Land Conveyance Act.
The bill, authored by Congressman Matt Gaetz, allows the county to express its conveyance in any part of the former Santa Rosa Island National Monument land that was given to Escambia by the federal government in 1947 to any person or entity, without restriction. It passed, the House Committee on Natural Resources on June 27.
“The issue at hand is only to transfer properties that are currently under lease,” County Commissioner Grover Robinson said. “The people can still buy and sell leases on Pensacola Beach. And they can also still develop land.”
He added, “Every bit of land, preserved, set aside for recreation, side walks, the casino beach parking lot all have been excluded from being able to sell going forward.”
Robinson clarified that this change would be optional for the counties to implement and people would still have access to public beaches if private investors did come in years down the road.
In 1947 Pensacola Beach was originally deeded from the Federal Government to Escambia County. The barrier island has seen great change since then, citizens watched small cottages grow into communities. As a result of Santa Rosa County’s lease, the people who live along the four-mile stretch of beach are taxed on the improvements to the leases and on the land itself.
The protesters listened to Commissioner Robinson but continued to express their grievances and worries for the future of the beach.
“Pensacola Beach was given to the citizens of Escambia by legislation passed in 1947,” local Cheryl Poister said. “That is my entire lifetime. It is my understanding that many of the homeowners on the beach want to own, not lease their property.”
She continued, “If legislation is changed and these people do get control over their property there will be changes to the beach for the worst. They will sell their property to the highest bidder of developers and the next thing you know we’ll have a sister city of Destin on Pensacola Beach.”
Many protesters said Pensacola Beach would turn into a vacation for the rich, filled with condos, private beaches and tourist. They reiterated their fear of losing the beach’s beauty to growth and development. And Poister told the board that if people became landowners, they would selfishly sell their property at top dollar to private investors.