DEP holds public hearing on St. Joe Company long-term ecosystem management agreement

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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — At Panama City Beach’s City Hall on Thursday night, a public hearing was held on a long-term agreement between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and The St. Joe Company to protect Northwest Florida ecosystems.

The ecosystem management agreement has been in place since 2004 and puts strict regulations in place for where The St. Joe Company can and can’t develop within their wide property lines; this, in order to protect fragile environments and wildlife corridors as the company continues to build throughout Bay and Walton counties.

“It’s a good concept, that instead of developing this 30,000 acre piecemeal, there’s a larger plan that important conservation areas can be set aside up front and planned around,” said Kent Wimmer, a Senior Representative for the national group, “Defenders of Wildlife,” who came to the meeting for it’s main purpose; to update residents on the status of the agreement and answer questions about it, as they do every five years that the agreement exists.

“This is an opportunity in that interim basically to check back in with the agencies to see how the public feels and what the public’s comments are,” said Wimmer.

However, throughout the two-hour duration of the hearing, the room was filled with empty chairs.

Only six people came out, most with comments on other issues. According to agency representatives, at the last hearing on the agreement, no one showed up.

“Folks don’t realize how big a development this impact is going to be to the area,” said Wimmer, in reference to St. Joe’s plans to develop land between West Bay and the Choctawhatchee Bay.

He said it’s crucial for residents to know how the agreement impacts the land surrounding them.

“If you live here and you care about the quality of life, it’s important to come out to events like this and let the agencies know what you think is important,” said Wimmer.

Currently, The St. Joe Company has two executed EMA’s with the DEP, and another one that has not yet been executed.

To learn more about the EMA, click here.

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