Rocks May not Keep Gulf From Claiming Panhandle Road

Thu August 21, 2003 - Southeast Edition

CAPE SAN BLAS, FL (AP) Gene Yeomans sounded almost philosophical about whether the rocks he just had helped unload would prevent the Gulf of Mexico from devouring the only link between this peninsula community and the rest of civilization.

"It might not be the solution, but for right now it’s sure enough the answer,’ said Yeomans, an independent contractor for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Many of the approximately 1,000 people who live on this narrow sandspit between the gulf and St. Josephs Bay, however, are unconvinced the granite wall will save State Road 30E from the waves now or in the future. At high tide, water comes within a few feet of the roadbed in an area known as the Stump Hole.

"Those rocks are a farce,’ cape resident Ron Morrow said. "We need to do something serious about the Stump Hole. It’s by far the most serious issue for the cape.’

Hurricanes have washed away the road before, and now even small storms cause havoc. Last year, Tropical Storm Isidore eroded a 100-ft. section, shutting the lone evacuation route.

"We’ll be an island out here before the summer is out,’ said Charlie Weston, another resident. "We can’t handle any kind of surge.’

Weston has organized meetings with state and local politicians and was part of a delegation that recently went to Tallahassee. The residents met with state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, who represents Gulf County, and state transportation and environmental officials.

Hoping for a long-term plan, all Weston got was rocks.

"They don’t even have the right kind of rocks out there,’ Weston said. "Those rocks should be the size of cars, and they’re not.’

More than 100,000 tons (90,718 t) of rock were shipped from Texas. It is being used to create a wall that peaks at 7 ft. (2.1 m) and stretches the length of a football field.

"That’s it,’ said FDOT spokesman Tommie Speights. "There’s nothing else in our five-year work program for that road. Our job is to protect the roadway. Mother Nature has her own way of dealingwith things.’

The next major storm may take out the rocks and road and with them the main water line to businesses, homes and St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.

Letting the gulf sink Stump Hole while building a bridge across it may be a long-term solution, but that may cause other problems.

"You could hurt the scalloping,’ said Morrow, who moved from Birmingham, AL, a decade ago to set up a scallop business. "The bay is its own little ecosystem, and to bring the gulf into that could disrupt everything.’

Weston said the next step is getting the Stump Hole recognized as a state project.

"We’re working the political end of it now,’ Weston said. "We need a long-term solution.’

The answer, for now, is set in stone.