Matt Gaetz has a grand plan. He says he wants Navarre beach to be another Destin (as if that is a worthy goal). Working with developers at Navarre, Gaetz has secured passage of legislation that will allow that to happen. Escambia owns Navarre Beach and leases the Beach to Santa Rosa County. Although Santa Rosa County has annexed Navarre Beach, it only leases the beach — it can never own it. Masking the real intent of the bill, Gaetz has not disclosed that the bill to grant fee simple title to leaseholders on Pensacola Beach will also nullify the Escambia Navarre lease to Santa Rosa County and give that beach to Santa Rosa County. If this bill passes the U S Senate, Escambia will lose Navarre Beach and receive no compensation or other benefit. Escambia will also lose the right to stop the wholesale devastation of Navarre Beach that will follow.
Gaetz has no infrastructure plan for the “billion dollar” expansion he and the developers are planning. Inadequate east-west roads to support the growth are the least of the infrastructure problems that will be encountered. He plans this massive growth fueled by digging a pass through Navarre Beach. How will this be paid for? He will ask his father for Triumph money. He has openly talked about changing the military objection to the pass. Every ecological and environmental study that has ever been done has found the pass to be a very bad idea. They tried it before and Hurricane Betsy filled it in almost immediately after they dug it.
The plan to change the ownership on the beaches from leases to fee simple title for residents is the tip of the iceberg. The real Gaetz motive is to get Navarre Beach in the hands of developers by gaining fee simple title to Navarre Beach. Under the terms and conditions of the transfer of the island to Escambia in 1947 that cannot happen because Navarre Beach can only lease the beach from Escambia County.
In pushing this legislation Gaetz has not asked for an environmental assessment across the entire beach from Pensacola to Navarre, has not done any economic feasibility study to determine the net gain or loss to Escambia for converting the leases on Pensacola Beach, has not held any public meetings to discuss the many problems this legislation may cause including the effect on subleases, the 5% gross sales tax loss from beach commercial leases, loss of beach lease revenue and countless other issues. Will this Navarre Beach title change impact the lease requirement for 1% bed tax Escambia receives from Navarre pledged for Escambia Civic Center bond payments? Who knows…
Grover is all for it because the leaseholders on the beach will benefit even though the net loss to the county in tax revenue has not been determined. Santa Rosa County is delighted by gaining fee simple title to Navarre beach and Navarre developers are salivating over the new pass. And none of them know or, at least in Gaetz and the developers case, care what the other unintended consequences might be. Grover might decide it was not a good idea.
Gaetz has been interviewed about the objections being raised and said those questioning what he has done were “trouble makers” and “leftists.” No. They are concerned citizens who see the potential problems which he either did not see or elected to ignore.
We have one hope and that is that Senator Nelson will stop this now.