Bay County working to establish ‘estuary program’ to make bays healthier

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — The Bay County Commission made a step toward healthier bays on Tuesday.

They voted to approve amending their local projects funded by the RESTORE Act to add the St. Andrew/St. Joe Bays Estuary Program. If approved by the US Treasury Department, the program will be a locally-driven approach to identifying and solving issues affecting the local watershed and bays.

Commissioner Bill Dozier said that as a community built around the bay system, paying attention to its health is crucial.

“We’re not named Bay County for nothing,” he said. “The estuary for St. Andrew Bay and St. Joe Bay is vital to our community and we just need to make sure that we do whatever it takes to take care of it.”

Locals agree; one came to voice her concerns at the commission meeting on Tuesday. She said she’s noticed a visible change in bay life.

Dozier said he’s seen it too.

“We could walk along Beach Drive back in the 70s and pick up scallops,” Dozier said. “Well today you just can’t do that.”

With a four-zero vote, the commission is moving forward with plans to create the new estuary program funded through the RESTORE act and Nature Conservancy funds, hosted by FSU-PC.

Bay County RESTORE Act coordinator Jim Muller said it’ll use scientific research and local input to create an action plan.

“Putting the plan together has a three year timeline associated with it,” Muller said. “But as we go forward we also realize there’s certain things that need to be done now that we know need to be done.”

He said that healthier bays mean a healthier community.

“The beaches are great but we have a lot more to offer than that,” he said. “The bays are a big part of that.”

Residents interested in subscribing to the email list for the estuary program and future information can email jmuller@baycountyfl.gov.

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