Washington, DC — The Director of the National Park Service has shelved a controversial project for armor-plating a washed out road on a Florida barrier island in the face of growing opposition, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). It was also an early test for the new leadership of National Park Service (NPS) because building a new armor-plated road on the barrier island would have violated recently-adopted resource protection policies and required a waiver from the Director to proceed.
In a letter dated March 1, 2007 addressed to PEER, Park Service Director Mary Bomar acknowledged mounting objections to the road plan and pledged not to waive her agency’s “Management Policies.” Director Bomar wrote that her agency will “take a new and more in-depth look at alternatives. As a result, the NPS will evaluate other options before proceeding with actions for accessing the Fort Pickens Area.”
The proposed road project was to be 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. Since Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the road has been largely unusable.
Park Superintendent Jerry Eubanks and Regional Director Patricia Hooks had proposed the “solution” of building a heavily armored road with 2.2 miles of sheet metal pilings on the sea side. That road plan, however, generated strong internal protests as well as objections from other state and federal agencies.
In addition, the road plan violated two NPS Management Policies; one directing that parks allow natural geologic processes to “proceed unimpeded” and another prohibiting placement of facilities in the path of natural hazards, except in emergency situations. The NPS Director could, however, set aside these policies, which were re-affirmed just this fall by incoming Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.
“We are pleased that the Park Service has decided to reconsider its options rather than plow ahead with an armored road across tidal inlets at taxpayer expense,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “We are also glad that Ms. Bomar has promised to enforce rather than evade the hard-fought resource protections contained in the Park Service Management Policies.”
Gulf Islands protects important barrier island ecosystems and historical resources in Florida and Mississippi. Both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had voiced objections to the Gulf Islands road plan, as had PEER and other conservation organizations.
It remains unclear, however, over what timeline the NPS will proceed to evaluate alternatives and announce next steps.