Local residents had an opportunity to hear from three candidates and ask questions about the issues Monday during a meeting of the Ponte Vedra Beach Coalition. Speakers included County Commissioner Henry Dean, Airport Authority candidate Reba Ludlow and Dave Rogers, who is running for state representative.
Dean, who is opposed by nonparty candidate Merrill Roland, devoted much of his presentation to beach renourishment projects. He called the Vilano-South Ponte Vedra project his “most exciting involvement for the last four years.” He also said the county wants to have another renourishment performed along the Ponte Vedra Beach coast.
He dispelled the notion that climate change is the cause of so much beach erosion in recent years.
“The reason that’s not true is that we had beaches washing away and needing renourishment 50 years ago,” he said.
He pointed out that much of the erosion was due to poor inlet management.
“We’re not going to close our inlets,” he said. “So, it’s my position that we have no choice but to do beach renourishment.”
Dean said others have told him that the county should just let nature take its course, but he pointed out that, without healthy beaches, tourism is impacted.
“This state rises and falls on tourism,” he said, referring to a study finding that for every dollar spent on beach renourishment, the state takes in $5.
Dean also addressed his reception of campaign donations made by developers. He gave examples of donors whose projects he later did not support.
“I think that I have demonstrated through my four years on the commission that I’m not there as a puppet to rubberstamp development in this county,” he said.
Rogers said he was a lifelong unaffiliated voter until 2016 when he got involved in the political process and registered as a Democrat. He was elected to the St. Johns County Soil and Water Conservation District in 2018 and is now challenging state Rep. Cyndi Stevenson for the District 17 state House seat.
Monday, he said his biggest priority if elected would be to get the Legislature to address climate change as it affects Florida.
“We are facing between two and six feet of sea level rise between now and 2100,” he said.
He said the state needs a long-term plan to address the issue.
“I’m an ocean engineer, and I understand the things we need to do,” he said. “We need to get started. We are out of time. There is no more time to debate this. We’ve squandered 20, 30 years by denying it exists.”
Ludlow touted her background in accounting and knowledge of local aviation issues. A pilot herself, she has been involved with the airport in varying capacities for the past 35 years.
She called the Northeast Florida Regional Airport “an economic gateway to St. Johns County” and pointed out a need for a board member who can offer an aggressive strategy for local aviation issues.