Don’t come to the coast

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Some years ago folks started leaving California for Oregon.
Oregonians were not happy with this trend.
So a group of natives decided to do a bit of reverse marketing.  They made a commercial featuring a man standing in the rain telling outsiders that if they came to Oregon they could expect to be wet, cold, fog-bound, and generally uncomfortable most of the year.
It was a spoof, of course.  The rain was provided by a man with a hose, just off camera. The fog was manufactured from dry ice. But the sentiment behind the endeavor was real – “Don’t come to Oregon.”
This all came back to me the other night when I attended what was billed as the “Seagrove Beach Town Meeting,” though Seagrove is not a “town” at all.
Our little community, like much of the Florida Panhandle and the Alabama beaches, was settled by people who were attracted to the area by how few restrictions there were.
From Gulf Shores to Panama City, “live-and-let-live” was the rule.
At the beach you could do pretty much what you wanted to do so long as it did not cause bodily harm, damage property or inconvenience others.     Beach boosters, aided and abetted by the “hospitality industry,” used the lure of freedom  as a marketing tool.
“Come to the coast” they cried, “leave your cares behind.”
“Down here laid-back has reached a new high.”
So they came.
Some for a week or two, some for a season, a few to settle and become locals.
As their numbers grew they began to complain about things that locals had accepted as part of the cost of living free  – drinking water that tasted “funny,” toilets that backed up,  a lack of decent roads, and law enforcement that did not show up when laid-back got out of hand.
Now if you know anything about the coast, making tourists happy is the rule that must be followed.
Making tourists happy put some beach communities on the slippery slope to becoming “towns.”
To become a town you must “incorporate.”  That means government, and government means rules and regulations which must be enforced, and enforcement costs money and that means taxes.
Gulf Shores and Destin had bitter fights over incorporation. On one side were those who depended on tourism for their living. They wanted better infrastructure, more services and were willing to accept the costs and restrictions that came with them.  On the other were those who didn’t – usually locals who liked it “the way it used to be”.
At the “Seagrove Beach Town Meeting,” I watched the table turn.
Seagrove Beach, South Walton County, and Scenic Highway 30-A have been promoted to the point that this once quiet piece of the Panhandle has become a popular tourist destination, so popular that traffic in our little village is a major problem.
And not just cars. Kids and adults whiz by on rented bikes, delivery trucks bounce along our dirt roads in an effort to avoid the highway congestion, stirring up dust and danger as they do.
Meanwhile beach vendors put out their umbrellas and chairs and fire pits and Tiki Torches and stage “events” – weddings and parties — in places that locals feel infringe on their legal, traditional, and customary coastal property rights.
And the highway floods when it rains.
That was what the town meeting was all about.
Where once people who settled along the coast did so to get away from the rules, regulations and restrictions, the folks who gathered that evening essentially told the County Commissioner in attendance that they not only wanted more and better-drafted regulations and restrictions, they wanted the darn things enforced.
Much of what they want will be roundly opposed by developers, the hospitality industry, and real estate interests. Like the locals, these groups enjoyed the lack of restrictions and used that lack to their advantage.  They’d like fewer rules, not more.
This opposition only underscores what a significant shift in attitude is taking place.
No one expects changes to occur quickly.
Drainage solutions that require hunks of highway to be torn up will not be greeted enthusiastically by tourists and the businesses that serve them.  Vendors will not happily give up parts of the beach that they have expropriated. Any effort to alleviate traffic congestion is bound to inconvenience someone.
Nevertheless, it seemed to me that there was a general consensus at the meeting that those who visit the coast have created problems for those who live here.
So it would not surprise me to soon see a Facebook posting of a sunburned, sweating citizen standing by the seaweed choked, shark infested Gulf, swatting yellow flies and mosquitoes, and warning anyone watching, “Don’t come to the coast.”
Bet it would go viral.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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