County to Park Service: Restore beach driving

Today, Historic City News reporters received a copy of the response that was sent to the National Park Service on behalf of St Johns County; requesting that the General Management Plan for the Fort Matanzas National Monument include a provision allowing vehicular access to the beach in “an environmentally responsible manner”.

The National Park Service held two public hearings at Marineland this month, to record comments on the Draft General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the Fort Matanzas National Monument.

The St Johns County Commission heard additional comments from residents during their regular meeting last week. At the center of controversy is restoration of driving on the beaches, between the ramp and the southern point at the Matanzas Inlet.

The letter, drafted by County Administrator Michael Wanchick, points out that, since the property was donated to the National Park Services in the 1960’s, and continuing until January 2010, beach driving was a historically permitted activity at Fort Matanzas National Monument.

Environmentalists, conservationists, and beachfront property owners spoke out against beach driving — while fishermen, some with handicaps, and other residents who have enjoyed using the south beaches for years, pled for the county to take whatever steps are necessary to restore access to the beach by automobile.

In the letter sent to the Park Service, Wanchick wrote, “This activity has been effectively managed so that shore birds and marine turtle nesting habitats were not impacted.”

He also expressed concern that the true economic impact of the various plan alternatives has not been fully assessed in the proposed General Management Plan.

Although the members of the commission did not adopt a resolution to approve Plan A, Plan B, or Plan C presented by the Park Service during last week’s meeting, Wanchick was asked to respond before the Friday deadline with a copy of a 2009 resolution supporting beach driving.

“Accordingly, the County would like to participate with the National Park Service in the creation of a Plan Alternative that incorporates beach driving in the Final General Management Plan,” Wanchick wrote. “The County believes that collaboration on this issue is the most effective method for a positive result for Fort Matanzas National Monument and the citizens of St. Johns County.”

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