(Cue Rod Serling)
“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call … The Twilight Zone.”
At the risk of sounding like a conspiratorial nutjob – what if a simple inquiry into an annual community parade exposed one of the most profound scandals in Volusia County history – evidence that the County Attorney’s Office has run a sophisticated con job on the Volusia County Council and the public for years?
This summer, organizers of the Historic North Turn Legends Beach Parade – an annual event celebrating the history of auto racing on the old beach course that was used in Ponce Inlet until the late 1950’s – were formally advised by Volusia County officials that the popular event would not be permitted in 2020.
Since 2012, the county has routinely permitted vintage race cars to briefly access the beach section of the course as the low speed parade completes one loop of the former track, creating a spectacular visual for hundreds of spectators who gather for the event during Race Weeks each February.
In July, our weaponized County Attorney, Dan “Cujo” Eckert, sent a letter to the sponsor explaining, in essence, that Volusia County had allowed the event by “mistake,” claiming authoritatively that permitting vehicles on that section of the beach constituted a violation of the county’s Incidental Take Permit (ITP) issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service designed to protect sea turtle nests.
According to Mr. Eckert’s correspondence, “The ITP must be renewed in 2030. It would be ironic if an event whose purpose in part is to celebrate the history of racing on the beach factored in the ultimate demise of all vehicular access on the beach.”
Jesus. Strong stuff. . .
Fortunately, it appears Ol’ Cujo’s frightening prognostication was complete horseshit. . .
Last week, long-time organizer and Ponce Inlet resident Rhonda Glasnak received an extremely thorough explanation from United States Congressman Bill Posey, who represents Florida’s 8th District and describes himself as a supporter, attendee and participant in past Legend’s Parades, detailing his investigation into Volusia County’s odd refusal to permit next year’s event.
According to the report, after Representative Posey made “numerous attempts” to contact County Manager Recktenwald over “several weeks,” he finally directed his staff to reach out to the United States Fish & Wildlife Service to discuss the issue – you know, get it from the horse’s mouth, as it were. . .
According to the USFWS:
“Historically, the Service supported Volusia County’s decision to permit the event as we do not see a conflict with their existing Incidental Take Permit (ITP) and Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The HCP allows for some vehicular access for special events if approved by the County and with concurrence of the USFWS. For this event, the Service has concurred with the County’s decision since the event takes place outside of sea turtle nesting season and precautions are taken to minimize adverse impacts. County staff reached out to Service again this year to discuss their position on the event. As before, the Service will support the County in whatever decision they make. Ultimately, the decision on whether to permit the event rest solely with Volusia County, not the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
In other words, so long as Volusia County takes reasonable precautions under the conservation plan, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service could care less if the historic parade rolls on the beach for a few minutes once each year.
That’s certainly a far cry from Mr. Eckert’s gloom and doom legal prophesy. . .
Well, apparently that incredibly soft interpretation by the very federal agency that issued the ITP didn’t satisfy Mr. Eckert – or his militant sidekick – assistant county attorney Jamie Seaman. . .
Then, things got even weirder. . .
On September 18, Representative Posey’s staff took a conference call with Volusia County’s Do-Nothing Director of Governmental Affairs, John Booker, and Attorney Seaman.
Inexplicably, during the call, the County Attorney’s Office openly disagreed with the USFWS regarding the Incidental Take Permit – even going so far as to claim that the parade (which has been allowed for the past eight years) is a violation of Florida law governing vehicular traffic on coastal beaches.
You read that right – Jamie Seaman literally argued against the findings of the United States Fish & Wildlife Service – then cited, chapter and verse, how the whole idea was in violation of state law!
According to Representative Posey, “My staff was also told that the County Attorney’s office would stand firm on their stance regarding this issue but did not have final say as the Volusia County Council would ultimately be the elected body making that call, should they wish to address it.”
Does anyone believe the Volusia County Council would openly disregard the legal recommendation of the County Attorney’s Office on a matter of grave importance to our most important natural and economic resource?
That’s why the opinions of Mr. Eckert and his staff have such a direct impact on the public policies that effect our lives and livelihoods.
Once again, Dan Eckert and his raging Hellhounds in the county attorney’s office have unleashed Pandora’s Box – and the questions from concerned constituents are pouring out fast and furious. . .
Why would County Attorney Eckert give demonstrably misleading information to a citizen and our elected officials, then create a fictitious nightmare scenario linking a long-time special event with the potential demise of our tradition of beach driving and access?
Why would Jamie Seaman – who is intimately familiar with the county’s Incidental Take Permit – vehemently oppose an incredibly favorable interpretation of the ITP by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service which effectively cedes complete decision-making authority for special beach access to Volusia County?
Now, I’m just spit-balling here, but was the County Attorney’s response designed to cover other bullshit ‘legal’ opinions issued over years which shaped beach driving and access policy by misconstruing key provisions of the Incidental Take Permit to further the objectives of speculative developers and government insiders with a profit motive?
And why won’t our highly compensated “new” County Manager George Recktenwald return telephone calls to a sitting United States Congressman on matters of community concern?
Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, for one, has worked tirelessly to see the Legends Parade continue in 2020. Now, it appears it will be up to our elected officials to investigate this matter and determine where the truth lies.
In my view, it’s time Chairman Ed Kelley and our elected representatives on the Volusia County Council finally leave the Twilight Zone, join us here in the “Real World,” and find hard answers to our mounting questions now that Representative Posey has exposed these glaring contradictions.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal