The Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners tabled two interconnected agenda items related to maintenance dredging of the Lake Vivian channel at its regular meeting on Tuesday, October 17, 2023, after vocal opposition from local residents.
The first agenda item considered a draft ordinance to create a Lake Vivian Channel Maintenance Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU). The MSBU would levy an initial assessment on surrounding homeowners beginning in fiscal year 2024-2025 to fund future dredging projects estimated around every 10 years.
The initial MSBU assessment aimed to raise $120,000 towards a $180,000 dredging budget by charging 22 homeowners and the county park property. The county’s share was set at 11 units, or one-third of the total cost, because it owns the Meigs Park boat ramp on Lake Vivian.
- Homeowners would cover the remaining two-thirds or $120,000.
At $120,000 over 10 years (plus any tax collector fees), the MSBU would charge each unit $633.36 annually or $52.78 monthly.
The second agenda item sought approval to re-permit and allocate $180,000 to dredge the channel now. It also requested authorization for staff to execute the dredging project if bid costs came in within budget.
According to county documents, the channel requires maintenance dredging every decade or so after storm activity and drifting sands clog the passage from Meigs Park and surrounding docks to Lake Vivian and Choctawhatchee Bay.
- The county has historically funded the full cost of maintenance dredging here for over 25 years, most recently spending $76,000 in 2008. It proposed doing so one last time before initiating the MSBU.
However, waterfront homeowners have seemingly spoken out against the MSBU terms with a petition that was mentioned during public comments at Tuesday’s meeting. According to one resident who spoke at the meeting, 14 of the 22 homeowners have signed a petition opposing the terms.
It seems there were some apparent misunderstandings or confusion among homeowners about the previous terms and proposals that had been discussed over the past 2 years.
- Some homeowners were confused as to why they would pay the same flat rate regardless of their individual lake frontage, since some have more frontage than others. The county explained the benefit is the same regardless of frontage size.
- There was confusion over why the Lake Vivian estimate was different from a Fort Walton Beach dredging estimate. The county explained that each location differs based on amount of material, timing, frequency, and other cost factors.
- Some homeowners thought the prior offer was to cover 2/3 of all costs including future dredging. But the county said that offer was only for one-time capital costs (such as jetties), not recurring dredging costs.
In response, the commissioners unanimously agreed to table both items.
“It appears based upon a petition that is being presented that the neighborhood doesn’t like it,” said Commissioner Nathan Boyles. “The reality is, we have a very small pocket park. It looks like it’s primarily a little beachfront access for folks on the bay. If the neighborhood doesn’t want it, we have a lot of priorities in this county…and if and when the neighborhood decides that they want to work with us on a structure that’s workable, so be it.”
Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, whose district includes the area and who has been working Deputy Administrator Craig Coffey on this, said she was disappointed homeowners rejected what she felt was a fair offer.
“It is not fair to ask the citizens of Okaloosa County to pay for waterfront property for others, but I hate to see this go away, because what’ll happen is, your lake will fill in,” said Ketchel.
- “We have worked very hard to get to this point,” she added. “If I owned a waterfront home there, at $50 per month, I would do it because my house value would go way up. But if it fills in, it’s going to go down.”
With no action taken, the county will not move forward with the MSBU or funding the dredging project. Homeowners around the lake would need to privately finance any future dredging once the channel silts up again.