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Evacuations put Gulf County RV Ordinance to the test

The Gulf County board of County Commissioners voted to approve a $250 fine for 107 recreational vehicle owners who failed to comply with a county-issued mandatory evacuation order ahead of Hurricane Idalia’s landfall two weeks ago.

According to Brad Bailey from the county’s Code Enforcement department, the 107 violations represent about a third of the 356 total RVs that fell under the emergency order issued about 36 hours before the storm’s landfall.

Those who were found to be in violation of the emergency evacuation order, considered to be a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida, will have the opportunity to make their case before the county’s special master before they will have to pay the $250 fine.

“If we’re not going to enforce the rules, we might as well throw the rulebook out,” said County Commissioner Philip McCroan. “When they brought RVs in, they knew what the rules were. They knew at some point in time, if there was a storm, or the possibility of a storm, that they would possibly have to move that RV.”

“It’s not considered a habitable structure in a storm.”

But while rules regarding evacuations may be widely understood, several RV owners in the area reported feeling the county’s communication of the mandatory evacuation order was lacking.

Following the order, county officials disseminated information about the mandatory evacuation through the AlertGulf system, which sends out calls, text messages and emails to those who have enrolled in the service in the case of a warning or emergency. The county also posted the order to their website and to several social media pages in an attempt to spread the word.

But these efforts, some criticize, were not always the most effective.

“I got the evacuation order third-party,” said Mike Roberts the manager of the Port St. Joe RV Resort in Highland View. “I know the fire chief and his wife, and she told me there was a mandatory evacuation, so we evacuated.”

All but three of the RVs located at the resort were evacuated in time for the storm, and the three that remained were uninhabited, Roberts said. 

“There were not many problems getting everyone evacuated, but there was, for lack of a better term, lacking communication, I think, from the county to people who were actually affected by the evacuation (order).”

RV Ordinance’s evacuation measures see first real test

The evacuation order represented one of the first large tests of portions of the county’s Recreational Vehicle Ordinance, which was narrowly passed by the commissioners in 2021, enshrining measures to place within the land development code a series of sweeping rules pertaining to recreational vehicles within the county.

Included in the 2021 RV Ordinance were measures to ensure that those establishing RVs as permanent residences adhered to other county-wide building regulations, including that the vehicle and accessories may cover no more than 30 percent of a lot’s impervious area and that only one RV is allowed per lot.

The ordinance also established “restrictive coastal RV zones” in which such RVs would be prohibited, unless grandfathered in.

In the interest of public safety, all those countywide rules would have to be met by those owning property at the time the ordinance is adopted.

While they would be allowed to continue to use their property for RVs, they would be required to practice mandatory evacuation within 48 hours of a county declaration of local state of emergency for either wind, storm or flood events.

According to Bailey, 55 of these grandfathered owners failed to comply with the evacuation order.

“We visited 356 properties for RVs from county line to county line, as you said, and we came up with a total of 107 that did not comply,” he said. “And out of those 107, 55 are in your RV restrictive zone.”

“… So, our recommendation would be that every one of the 107 receive a fine of up to $500 and everyone inside of the RV restrictive zone get a one-time warning letter, this time, (informing them their grandfather status may be revoked upon a second infraction).”

According to county officials, some of their “leniency” in these circumstances is the result of what they said have been valid criticisms of the legislation’s clarity in these circumstances.

The county issued their mandatory evacuation order about 36 hours before Idalia made landfall on Wednesday morning, which some RV owners have pointed out is within the 48-hour time frame allowed in the ordinance.

However, according to County Administrator Michael Hammond, any emergency order issued by the county supersedes existing county law.

“We’ve got two different ordinances (at play here), and there was a lot of confusion,” Hammond said. “The RV ordinance says 48 hours, which is not reasonable, especially when you have a fast-moving storm like this. The emergency ordinance supersedes the RV ordinance.”

“… But, being fair, we tried to wait as long as we could because we don’t want to inconvenience people, and, I mean, this caused a lot of folks to be inconvenienced… We didn’t do this because we wanted to. We did this because we saw what happened the last time, and had it wobbled just a little bit more our way, we would be in the same position they are in Perry and Horseshoe Beach and some of those other areas.”

Following the presentations by Bailey and other county officials, Chairman of the Board Sandy Quinn opened up the matter for public comment, of which there was none.

Then, the commissioners voted four to five to issue the warnings and the $250 fine, which under law could be no higher than $500. Commissioner David Rich opposed the motion, voicing his opposition to the RV ordinance, which he voted against passing in 2021.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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