County CBRA legislation clears Senate

After a misfire in the U.S. House of Representatives late last year, language to begin to peel Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) designation from county lands was approved Tuesday by the U.S.Senate.

A “Lands Package,” legislation combining 100 bills, was sent to the Senate floor late last week and passed Tuesday afternoon, according to a spokeswoman in Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s office.

The package included an amendment from Rubio which would remove over 40 acres of Gulf County land from the CBRA zone.

That land includes the Cape Breezes subdivision and a small portion of Billy Joe Rish State Park.

Having passed the Senate, the bill still must be approved by the full House of Representatives for passage and then to President Donald Trump’s desk.

In short strokes, Rubio’s amendment includes a map that was inadvertently left out of a bipartisan House bill sponsored by Congressman Neal Dunn (R-North Florida) and two other congressmen late last year.

Initially, Dunn’s office believed a map specific to Gulf County was part of that bill, which was overwhelmingly passed by the House.

“Specifically for Gulf County, the legislation corrects an erroneous placement of areas of the county into CBRA in the 1980s,” Dunn spokeswoman Shelby Hodgkins wrote about the original bill taken up and passed on the House floor.

“This is a small, but significant step to correct this.”

As it turned it, the map and associated language was not part of the bill, which strengthened some provisions of the law while also requiring updated and more accurate mapping in various coastal areas of the county.

Maps pertaining to Bay and Dixie counties were included.

The final recommended agency map for Gulf County, from the agency overseeing the CBRA program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, would remove 47 acres, some 40 structures, almost entirely in the Cape Breezes subdivision due to the level of infrastructure in place when included in CBRA.

That is the map and language that did not get in the Dunn bill passed by the House but is included in Rubio’s amendment to the far broader “Lands Package” in the Senate.

The 47 acres is an important first step for the county, which has been trying for two decades over overturn the CBRA designation for some 900 acres along coastal Gulf County.

“Once that 40 acres is done (the Board of County Commissioners) is going back to work on the rest of the acreage because we (will have a precedent),” Assistant County Administrator Warren Yeager said last week.

Gulf County officials have long argued that more than 900 acres were rolled into CBRA even though existing infrastructure should have precluded such action.

And, county officials argue that erroneous designation has cost the county tens of millions of dollars while handicapping property owners from securing federal funds, particularly federally-backed flood insurance.

Access to the federal flood insurance program is part of the language of Rubio’s amendment and Dunn’s House-approved bill.

Dunn has sponsored a bill which is in committee that would remove the CBRA designation from a significant portion of coastal south Gulf County.

That bill includes language mandating the removal of the CBRA designation from much of the unit that encompasses south Gulf County.

No matter the future of any of the above bills, it is easily the furthest any bill pertaining to CBRA in Gulf County has moved.

CBRA was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan and works to preserve barrier islands by barring the use of federal funds and financial assistance, the aim to constrain development.

Changes require Congressional action.

Two previous congressmen, Allen Boyd and Steve Southerland, filed bills seeking to partially or in whole remove the CBRA designation in Gulf County.

None made it out of committee.

Last year the BOCC considered whether to pursue legal action once legislative options proved fruitless.