New Park Director Faces First Test on Gulf Islands Road
Plan to Armor Road Requires Director to Set Aside Conservation Rules
Washington, DC — The new Director of the National Park Service must decide whether to set aside her agency’s resource protection policies in order to approve a project for armor-plating a washed out road on a Florida barrier island. The road plan has drawn strong internal opposition as well as objections from other state and federal agencies, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The proposed road project is located on Santa Rosa Island in Florida’s Gulf Islands National Seashore. Hurricane Opal destroyed the Fort Pickens Road in 1995. After rebuilding the road, several subsequent hurricanes each wiped out the reconstructions. Now the road is unusable. Piles of asphalt from the old road lie partially buried in the sand.
Spearheaded by park superintendent Jerry Eubanks and Regional Director Patricia Hooks, NPS has hit upon the “solution” of constructing a heavily armored road with 2.2 miles of sheet metal pilings on the sea side. On November 30, 2006, the agency wrapped up a perfunctory Environmental Assessment for the project, with road armoring as the preferred alternative.
One last hurdle for the armoring project remains – NPS Director Mary Bomar must waive the new NPS Management Policies adopted this summer with much fanfare by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. In particular, Director Bomar must set aside directives that parks allow natural geologic processes to “proceed unimpeded” as well as policies to avoid placing facilities in the path of natural hazards.
“This costly and destructive project flies in the face of the dynamics of coastal barrier islands,” stated PEER Board Member Frank Buono, a former long-time NPS manager, noting that Gulf Islands protects important barrier island ecosystems and historical resources in Florida and Mississippi. “The Park Service is proposing to build a heavily armored, Maginot Line-type road across what are essentially tidal inlets.”
Thus far, regional NPS officials have brushed aside not only internal protests but also opposition from –
- NPS’s own Development Advisory Board which rejected the hard-engineering proposal in March 2006;
- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) who’s outgoing Secretary wrote to question the NPS approach in October 2006; and
- The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service expressed its opposition in a November 30, 2006 letter.
“Vetoing this misguided project will be a good start for the new, untested Park Service Director,” Buono added. “We are urging Ms. Bomar to enforce the Park Service Management Policies and instead send this project back for consideration of a more intelligent design that both saves taxpayer dollars and better protects the natural and historical resources of the Seashore.”