In a major step forward for the so-called “Boss Oyster Marina,” the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Monday served notice to the developers that they intend to grant both an Environmental Resource Permit and a lease to use sovereign submerged lands to the project.
The word came in a July 17 report issued by Elizabeth Mullins Orr, the FDEP’s northwest district director, that the developers, Panama City-based Apalachicola Trading Company, LLC “has provided reasonable assurance that the activity is “not contrary to the public interest,” will maintain essentially natural conditions; will not cause adverse impacts to fish and wildlife resources or public recreation or navigation; and will not interfere with the riparian rights of adjacent property owners.
Principals of the Apalachicola Trading Company include John Z. Ferrell, Jared Blair, Daniel Haligas and Brian Lee. Apalachicola businessman Steven Etchen, who appeared at P & Z meetings with Dan Garlick, the project’s environmental engineering consultant, is also an investor in the project.
The notice of intent now is subject to comment by the public before the state grants the needed authorizations for the developers to transform the delipidated remnants of the 24-room Apalachicola River Inn, Caroline’s River Dining, Roseate Spoonbill Lounge and Boss Oyster restaurant.
With the granting of the permit, the developers would be authorized to renovate and expand an existing commercial docking facility and its seawall, and construct a new 64-slip, commercial docking facility with a pump-out station and boardwalk.
Plans initially were to construct a 76-slip marina, but plans remain to build a new 150-seat Boss Oyster restaurant. The original submittal proposed approximately 12,947 square feet of docking structure but was reduced to approximately 9,452 square feet in the final design. The developers originally proposed, but later abandoned, plans to have a fuel dock.
The new facility will consist of a new, approximately 425 linear foot seawall along or landward of the existing seawall and three docks. The southernmost dock will include a 149.5-foot by 8-foot access pier, an 88-foot by 8-foot terminal platform, three 35-foot by 4-foot catwalks, and three 45-foot by 4-foot catwalks.
The middle dock will include a 181.2-foot by 8-foot access pier, a 77.9-foot by 8-foot terminal platform, four 40-foot by 4-foot catwalks, and six 30-foot by 4-foot catwalks. The northernmost dock will include a 214.5-foot by 8-foot access pier, a 68-foot by 8-foot terminal platform, and 30-foot by 4-foot catwalks.
FDEP said it intends to grant a 10-year sovereignty, submerged land lease containing about 92,000 square feet for the commercial marina. In her report, Orr outlined a year-old review that included input from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, as well as public comments.
None of the state agencies voiced objections, although their input included placing several restrictions on the process of constructing the new marina.
An initial site visit was performed by the FDEP Northwest District Panama City Branch Office staff on May 27, 2021, with a follow-up on May 11, 2023.
“The project, as proposed, would not require reclassification of the conditionally approved area beyond the existing prohibited area,” write DACS. “An increase in the number of boats or boat slips would require additional evaluation to determine if the current prohibited area is adequate.”
DACS later clarified that “As long as the original permit hasn’t changed, we do not have to reclassify based on this construction, and the original permit comments are still valid and accurate.”
The Apalachicola Riverkeeper submitted comments, as did the city of Apalachicola, Franklin County, and local businesses with concerns about navigation and the amount of time to submit comments. Orr wrote that issuing of this Notice of Intent would allow additional time for comments to be received.
Navigational concerns were addressed by correspondence with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for clarification on federal channel navigation and correspondence with the applicant and environmental consultant to provide distances from the proposed docks to the federal channels and associated aids to navigation.
In her report, Orr said the project will not cause adverse water quantity impacts to receiving waters and adjacent lands; will not cause adverse flooding to on-site or off-site property; will not cause adverse impacts to existing surface water storage and conveyance capabilities; does not include any permanent placement of fill or impervious surfaces and will not block existing conveyances, and will not impact surface or groundwater levels or surface water flows.
The permit requires handrails be placed along all areas where mooring is prohibited, that seagrass information signs be installed at the landward end of each access pier, and that pilings be wrapped to prevent leaching. The developers will also have to install permanent manatee educational signs, which shall be maintained for the life of the facility,
“The activity as proposed is permanent. In order to be “clearly in the public interest,” the applicant has agreed to provide all 64 permit slips available to the general public on a “first come, first serve” basis,” Orr wrote. “(They) will provide sewage-pump outs to the public. The overboard discharge of trash, human or animal waste, or fuel at the facility is prohibited.”