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Navarre Beach pulls up Mobi Mats due to FDEP violations

PNJ.com (Pensacola) logo PNJ.com (Pensacola) 10/4/2019 Annie Blanks, Pensacola News Journal

The mega-popular Mobi Mats on Navarre Beach have been removed due to apparent environmental violations brought against Santa Rosa County by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

The three, 200-foot long polyester mats stretched from the boardwalk down to the shoreline and were meant to help people in wheelchairs or people who have trouble walking in sand to better access the beach. They were first installed in March 2018.

But the county never sought approval from the FDEP to install the mats, according to District 4 Commissioner Dave Piech. A letter from the FDEP dated Aug. 28 said the mats were in violation of the Coastal Construction Control Line Program, which "regulates structures and activities that can cause beach erosion, destabilize dunes, damage upland properties or interfere with public access."

"I wasn't in office two years ago, so I don't know how they (the county) didn't know, and should they have known, but they probably should have," Piech said. "But I'm not on a witch hunt to find out who, when and why. I'm on a witch hunt to find out how we can get the mats back on the beach." 

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a group of people sitting on a bench: Brianna Tran tests out the new Mobi Mats at Navarre Beach on March 23, 2018. © Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com Brianna Tran tests out the new Mobi Mats at Navarre Beach on March 23, 2018.

"It's a tragedy we've had to pull them out," Piech said. "I had a lady come up to me a few weeks ago and give me a hug and say, 'You don't know what it means to me to be able to roll down to the beach in my wheelchair,' and she started crying and it choked me up. But DEP is just doing their job and abiding by the law, and now we need to make it right." 

Roger Blaylock, the county engineer, said the mats were pulled up when officials received the letter. The county is in the process of applying for the proper permitting from FDEP, which could take months. 

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Blaylock also said the FDEP sent letters to other locations throughout the Panhandle regarding non-permitted Mobi Mats. 

"This is a line of regulation the state has implemented up and down the coastline to where, south of the CCCL, the state requires a permit to be there," he said. "Once we received the letter, we contacted the local field agent and requested a field permit. However, the determination in Tallahassee was made that there was such a proliferation of Mobi Mats in Northwest Florida beaches that there was a full-blown effort to remove all the ones that weren't permitted and get them all in compliance."

Pensacola Beach installed its own Mobi Mats this past June. Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender, whose district includes Pensacola Beach, said the county went through the proper permitting process before they laid out the mats. 

"We went through all the permitting beforehand and that's why, on the Gulf side, they don't extend very far," Bender said. "A lot of that was also due to turtle nesting. But we're working on ways to expand them at the Casino Beach area, and we're working through the DEP for that." 

There's no timeline for when the Navarre Beach Mobi Mats will be back in place.

Annie Blanks can be reached at ablanks@pnj.com or 850-435-8632. 

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Navarre Beach pulls up Mobi Mats due to FDEP violations

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