The 72-mile A1A Scenic and Historical Coastal Byway is one of 150 such federally recognized national scenic byways chosen for their cultural, historic, natural or archeological value. The scenic byway system is a collaboration between the federal transportation department and local, mostly volunteer groups that adopt care for the byways. For A1A in Flagler and St. Johns counties, that group is the non-profit Friends of A1A, whose 10-member volunteer board (five of whom are Flagler appointees) oversee projects for the byway.
One of those projects was the “See I – Clean It” campaign, a beach clean-up that every month targeted one segment in St. Johns and one in Flagler, providing grabbers, bags, trash cans and gloves to volunteers and setting them loose on the sands. The program also conducted presentations distributed brochures on stewardship, promoting beach conservation and education for visitors and residents. The project in 2009-2010 was paid for by the State Department of Environmental Protection. That money ran out and wasn’t renewed.
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Friends of A1A last month appeared before Flagler County’s Tourist Development Council with a $32,000 request to pick up the program costs. They were not so much denied as turned back and asked to come back with a clearer, less expensive proposal. They did: A $15,000 request. On Dec. 15, they were turned back again.
There’s no hesitation among tourist council members that beach clean-ups and preservation are essential. “I’ve been surfing Jungle Hut Road since I was 15 years old here and it’s always amazing to me that when you see this type of garbage on our beaches how it really changes the whole landscape of the beach,” Milissa Holland, who chairs the council, said. “There’s been certain times over the years where it’s been more noticeable, so I applaud these efforts.”
But members weren’t impressed by the quality of the request—the lack of details and accountability, and an administrative $75-an-hour fee that stood out as particularly unusual.
“Who would you pay $75 an hour to?” council member Linda Mitchell asked Sally O’Hara, the friends’ chief consultant.
“My typical reimbursement rate is $75 an hour as a planning consultant and director,” Ohara said. “Interns typically receive $10 an hour. Volunteer coordinators typically receive anywhere from $15 to $25 an hour.”
“We’re basically you’re only source of funding, am I correct? You’re not getting anything from St. Johns County?”
“So who will determine what you will be researching, where you kick in at the $75 an hour?,” Mitchell asked, seeking specifics of the jobs.
“Coordinate, collect data, organize.” A fire alarm went off just then. It was just a test.
Mitchell continued asking what sort of reporting she’d be getting if the money was approved. “We’d want to see definitely where every dollar of it went, without exception.”
“If we can find a way to do this without spending $75 an hour for administrative control, I’d like to see if we can do it,” council member Ron Vath of Flagler Beach said, adding a question: how is trash pick up going to affect erosion control? The answer was a lot of analysis. That was not specific enough for Vath.
“This grant is just to pay a salary. It’s not going to pay anything else but a salary,” member Mary DiStefano, who represents Palm Coast, said.
“Not exactly,” O’Hara said.
“You’re asking for $15,000, and that salary, I don’t see you can spend anything else for bags or pick up stuff. Where do you get the money for that?”
“Well, I’m requesting $15,000, $12,000 will go for coordination services, which will include services rendered by myself, volunteers, interns, as appropriate, to create the program necessary to create the adoption and the beach clean-up. The $3,000 would be devoted to additional supplies—grabbers, pickers, if there are signs that need to be installed, boxes or whatever. I would have to work with the department of recreation very closely to determine the needs for each area.”
That $3,000 line item set for equipment and supplies for the entire year’s project left Jeff Conner perplexed: “I deal with a lot of budgets on a lot of diff properties, $3,000, does not—forgive me for saying this—I don’t think it’s a enough to be requesting. Let me give you a for instance. What if there’s a trash can that’s needed at a very specific parking spot along A1A, that kind of thing, and that certainly can’t account for any of that. In $3,000 I can’t even imagine for an entire year would even buy the trash bags. And that’s using my best resources: I don’t think I could only spend $3,000 on 12 clean-ups. I would keep that in mind if you’re going to outline any budget.”
O’Hara also clarified that while the original grant request for $32,000 projected two beach clean-ups a month, this latest request projects just one clean-up a month—actually, nine clean-ups over the course of the year, as January and February would be devoted to “planning and protocol development with collateral materials” and other incidental preparations, and December would be devoted to “celebrations and recognitions and close-out reports.” Why those things could not be done in conjunction with ongoing clean-ups during those months—since protocols are already in place: clean-ups took place since 2009—is not clear.
Sustainability was another concern: who will keep this program going once money does finally run out entirely? The Friends’ plan is to have every segment of beach in Flagler and St. Johns adopted, the way highways are, by civil groups and businesses. “We’ve had some success,” O’Hara said. So far two of eight segments in Flagler County have been adopted, and three of 11 in St. Johns have been adopted.
But the proposal’s lack of overall clarity led the council to once again turn down the request for money and ask the Friends to submit a more precise line-item budget for the $15,000 at the next meeting. The decision was unanimous.