A stepped-up effort by Port St. Joe residents to get a major second-look at the city’s plans for a multi-faceted “Field of Dreams” has led to what promises to be a highly-informative workshop this Tuesday evening.
As it stands now, the city, with the support of the county, is moving forward with a large-scale expansion of the 10th Street ballfields, a nearly 70-year-old set of three baseball and two softball fields on 10th street between Marvin and Woodward avenues. Opposition has slowly percolated ever since the city more than a decade ago, in concert with an interlocal agreement with the county, first laid out plans for a 60-acre Field of Dreams complex east of town, near the Dollar General and the North Florida Child Development Center.
A fifth penny for the Tourist Development Council tax was approved that would fund the complex, which drew on land originally given over by The St. Joe Complex for that purpose.
But beginning in 2017 the city began looking for a site closer to the center of town, and took engineering and financial moves to expand the 10th Street ballfields into the sort of expanded sports complex that can attract tournaments and improve the recreational profile of Port St. Joe.
The problem is, for neighbors who have risen in opposition, is that the area in question is a critical part of the Port St. Joe drainage basin.
“The wetlands outside of the existing baseball fields are less than 20 acres and important wetlands for our entire community,” said Christy McElroy, a leader of the citizen activism. “Just as are the 177 trees and tidally-driven canal system between Woodward and Marvin Avenues.”
A flyer distributed by the neighbors stresses that there are the protected bald cypress, longleaf Pines, magnolias and palms among those slated for removal between Highway 71 and 16th Street.
The flyer stresses that “environmental wellbeing” is at stake, pointing to the role that the wetlands, trees and canal system played in mitigating 2 to 6 feet of storm surge caused by Hurricane Michael.
“They did the job and saved us,” it reads. “The flooding would have been worse had we not had our valuable natural infrastructure during Hurricane Michael. Not only are many of our neighborhoods in the over 280 acres of drainage basin but most of our homes are now in AE and A flood Zones, according to the Northwest Florida Water Management District’s 2021 Flood Maps.”
The neighbors contend that these designations mean there is an increased risk of flooding during heavy rain events, compounding flooding into many areas and neighborhoods of our community compromising our safety and economic well-being.
“These wetlands … contribute to the health of our bay and is an important food web habitat for our community, a vibrant area for otters, blue herons, great white egrets, bald eagles, owls, hawks, osprey, a migration route for ibis, split tail kites, Mississippi kites, robins, dragonflies, bees, butterflies, fish and more.”
Mcelroy has also argued that the entire process of switching the Field of Dreams project from its original location has been marked by questionable decisions by city leaders.
She alleges that $1 million in COVID recovery funds from FEMA have been “misappropriated” by the city to the 10th Street ballfields from the original deeded 60 acres that she said were “clearly requested for the (original) Field of Dreams property due to the Hurricane Michael damage to the 10th Street ballfields.’
The neighbors went to court over the issue, and their lawsuit has so far been set aside in exchange for an agreement that secured a stiffer requirement for development orders for the 10th Street complex.