Destin city leaders host workshop spotlighting proposed Crab Island regulations

Destin city leaders host workshop spotlighting proposed Crab Island regulations

Crab Island has become a destination for people visiting Destin, but the prime location for boat parties and water activities has recently come under fire for its regulations - or lack thereof.

On Monday evening, City of Destin officials hosted a workshop with local and state officials, law enforcement, business owners and residents to identify problems around Crab Island and how to fix them.

The Destin community knows Crab Island draws thousands of tourists every year, but some also feel it brings with it a series of issues, including safety and business licensing out on the water.

For instance, Crab Island is normally packed with boats and people having fun in the crystal clear water during the summer.

Over the years, some business owners who cater to the Crab Island crowds feel it has shifted to a more family-friendly atmosphere.

Michael Depass, owner of Crab Island Online said, "When I first started it was really like a 'Girl's Gone Wild', something like that out there on Crab Island, but lately as of six years after the oil spill and all that it seems to bring in more of the family."

Depass, along with other business owners and residents, helped identify some of the issues affecting the popular tourist destination.

Public safety, environmental concerns, business regulations and the docking of floating structures during the offseason were quickly listed as the biggest problems.

Tripp Tolbert, a hotel developer, said there's no control over what businesses set up out on the water. He wants to see stricter regulations enforced.

"Today we have jet skis, we have trampolines and all kinds of floating devices out there. But what keeps someone from coming tomorrow with poles and other activities going on out there that aren't conducive to our family environment?" he said.

Depass doesn't believe that's a problem.

"I've been out there and there's not been more than seven of us at any given time like a checkerboard. Some go, some come. It's never been more where regulation is necessary. Maybe enforce the rules we already have. Make sure everyone is licensed and they get health inspected and they have the proper paperwork to be that and do that," Depass said.

During the off-season, many are tired of seeing floating structures anchored behind residential areas. They want to see the county create an area where they can be kept out of sight.

Depass stores his business on land but agrees something needs to be done.

He said, "There's plenty of water out there for everybody. But you can't really, you have to put it in the right spot. You can't say, 'we'll have you right in the middle of the bay.' That's not going to work in the winter."

The group is optimistic they'll be able to come up with solutions that make everyone happy.

Tolbert said, "It's a huge source of revenue for the area and it's a huge source...its a big draw for our tourists to come because it's a very novel set up out there, but that being said I still think there has to be control."

During the meeting, officials with the Gulf Island National Seashore said they have jurisdiction over Crab Island.

Park officials are required to manage and authorize commercial activity within the seashore.

It's a rule that has not been enforced.

Most people at the workshop agree the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office and the Coast Guard do a great job patrolling and protecting the community.

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