By Lori Leath Smith
For years and years, one of Destin’s most vital assets, Norriego Point, functionally and aesthetically, was losing its battle against nature. Multiple thousands of dollars have been spent trying to clear the Harbor so that recreational boats, as well as the charter fishing fleet, could get in and out of the harbor safely. Despite all efforts, sand kept filling in the channel at Norriego Point, “especially after Hurricane Opal when the Point was actually breached,” said Sam Seevers, former Destin mayor. “Since then, the Point had never really been able to settle which made safety an issue,” she said.
What Norriego Point needed was a permanent solution for stabilization. As Destin’s mayor in 2013, Seevers received notice that full funding was being recommended by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees. At that point, she, along with city staff, had already been working tirelessly for years to submit applications and file for permits, competing with others to obtain some of the oil spill settlement money marked for restoration projects since the BP oil spill had shrunk a promising tourist season and crippled the charter fishing fleet in 2010. Seevers even petitioned Okaloosa County to grant the city ownership of Norriego Point, which the county eventually did. After years of relentless work and from many who were instrumental in seeing the project through, BP also began to take notice. Seevers says she welcomed BP and worked WITH them to establish a strong relationship. And with a management plan already in place, the rest of the efforts built upon securing the funds to make the project a reality.
Fast forward to 2019 and many years later, and residents and visitors are finally realizing the almost completion of a $12 million dollar funded, permanently revitalized Norriego Point. Its impact is important in the city’s history as the Point is one of Destin’s most unique assets. “When entering Destin from the west, travelers can clearly see Norriego Point separating the Destin Harbor from the East Pass channel that leads out to the Gulf of Mexico,” says Lance Johnson, Destin’s city manager. “For years it has served as a gathering point for both residents and visitors arriving both by land and by boat.” Aside from being a beautiful recreation area enjoyed by thousands annually, the Point protects the Destin Harbor, HarborWalk Village boardwalk and the city’s multi-million-dollar charter fishing and recreational boating industry, vital to our local, as well as regional economy.
The two-phase project included shoreline stabilization, beach and dune restoration, re-established recreational improvements and the addition of five acres to the Point. Several erosion control structures were constructed to dissipate wave energy, and protect the fill placed landward of the revetment to restore and expand the land area lost over time.
Phase one is complete. Phase 2 is in process and is planned to include a recreational area with a public park, picnic pavilion, boardwalk and restroom facilities, a multiuse trail, bike racks, and vehicle parking along the access road adjacent to the park land.
At this time, the recreational components are in the design phase. “We hope to have 60% of the design plans for the recreation components available for review by the Parks and Recreation Committee by the end of February with a subsequent review of those plans by the City Council in March,” says Johnson. “If the design phase remains on track, construction could begin sometime after Labor Day this year.”
Johnson says he looks forward to the final stage of the Norriego Point project being completed. “The recreation components that will be added will make this an even better experience for our residents and visitors and will make the facility much more accessible to those with special needs.” In the meantime, its new facelift and functionality can be enjoyed now while helping to guarantee better safety and quality of life at the Harbor. And both Seevers and Johnson are very proud of it. “Norriego Point is a long-standing landmark in Destin for residents and visitors alike. The recently completed armoring projects will help ensure that both Norriego Point and the Destin Harbor are around for future generations to enjoy,” says Johnson.