Fort Matanzas beach driving on Tuesday agenda

The Draft General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for Fort Matanzas National Monument will be reviewed before the St Johns County Commission on Tuesday morning for a review according to the agenda received by Historic City News last week.

The plan examines three alternatives and associated impacts for managing the Fort Matanzas National Monument over the next 15 – 20 years.

Jan Brewer, Environmental Division Director, is recommending that the County Administrator be authorized to send Board directed comments to the National Park Service before the 60-day review deadline, which is August 24.

General Information

• The Draft General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for Fort Matanzas National Monument has been published and is available for public review and comment. To access the plan go to:

• The plan examines three alternatives and impacts for managing the Ft. Matanzas over the next 20 years. The 60-day comment period for the Draft will end on August 24, 2012.

• Two public meetings were held at the Lohman Auditorium at Marineland; the first on Monday, July 23, 2012 and the second on Tuesday, July 24, 2012. The same information was provided in each meeting. County staff attended along with approximately 90 – 100 individuals from the public. Most comments pertained to the beach driving issue and not some other aspect of the Management Plan. Each night the comments were about equally divided between individuals that wanted beach driving to resume and those that preferred to prohibit beach driving. Having additional ADA access was brought up each night.

• In 2009 the Board of County Commissioners passed Resolution 2009-369 in support of the continuation of beach driving at Ft. Matanzas in a manner that allows recreational and economic activity while protecting the environment.

• After the 60-day comment period, the National Park Service planning team will evaluate comments from other federal agencies, tribes, organizations, businesses, and individuals and incorporate appropriate changes into a Final General Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement.

• Once the Final General Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement is noticed, a 30-day no-action period will follow then a “Record of Decision” documenting the selected alternative for implementation will be signed by the National Park Service’s regional director.

• Additional feasibility studies and more detailed planning and environmental documentation may be needed before any proposed action can be carried out. For example, all required regulatory permits would be needed before implementing actions that impact wetlands or appropriate federal or state agencies would need to be consulted concerning actions that could affect threatened and endangered species.

• Actions directed by General Management Plan or in subsequent implementation plans will be accomplished over time. Budget restrictions, requirements for additional data or regulatory compliance, and competing national park system priorities could prevent immediate implementation of many actions. Major or costly actions could be implemented 10 or more years into the future.

• Five management zones were developed identifying the widest range of potential appropriate resource conditions, visitor experiences, and facilities for the park that fall within the scope of the park’s purpose, significance, and special mandates.

• Appropriate kinds of activities for each of the five zones are:

    -Visitor Service: include park access, paying fees, receiving orientation to the resource.
    -Park Service: visitors would not enter this zone except for information or assistance.
    -Historic Resource: participate in interpretive programs view resources and displays, photography, appropriate recreation.
    -Natural resource: low-impact activities such as photography, fishing, kayaking.
    -Recreation: activities such as sightseeing, picnicing, fishing, swimming, hiking.

• Alternative A is the no-action alternative which describes how the National Monument is being managed now. This Alternative is to continue with the existing management practices and policies into the future and is included in order to provide a basis for comparing the other alternatives. No map is provided as this Alternative does not require any changes to existing activities.

• Alternative B is the National Park Service’s preferred alternative. This Alternative provides some limited expansion of existing facilities, which would also consist of some expanded off-beach parking. This Alternative also reads that, “driving on the Atlantic Ocean beach within the boundary of Fort Matanzas would continue to be prohibited in accord with current law, policy and presidential executive orders”.

• Alternative C reads that the north end of the Anastasia Island part of the park that is west of A1A is to be preserved as an exhibit which “commemorates the efforts of local citizens to preserve the Spanish history of the site”. It also reads that with this alternative National Park Service would seek authority to permit driving on the beach within the park boundary through a “special regulation” and the development of an Off Road Vehicle (ORV) Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The “special regulation” is an exception to the existing National Park Service regulation that limits off-road vehicles to National seashores, lakeshores, preserves or recreation areas. The “exception” would add Fort Matanzas to that list of authorized areas for Off Road Vehicles. Beach driving would not be allowed until the ORV Plan and accompanying EIS is prepared and approved. The driving area may be all or some portion of the beach from the access ramp south to the seaward side of the bridge.


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