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Progress or Disaster?: Growing Pains Along the Forgotten Coast

Small fishing villages are being inundated by construction crews. The next time you take a road trip to the Gulf coast, pay specific attention to the signs; not ones that say “Apalachicola: 40 miles,” rather, the signs of the times.

Trailers packed with building materials, billboards touting the forgotten coast, homes for sale on every corner; some call it progress; others call it a disaster. In Carrabelle, Florida beauty isn't hard to come by. Character and history can be found on every street corner, things like the world's smallest police station where officers answered 9-1-1 calls years ago, or Carrabelle Junction, a favorite among locals where the interior design is as nostalgic as its location, a once thriving fishing village along Florida's Gulf coast.

That's when seafood was the number one industry, when the riverfront was visible from downtown and when locals relished the silence.

Ron Gempel, Carrabelle Junction owner, says, “People would say, ‘why did you come here, there's nothing here?’ I'd say that's exactly why.”

For Ron Gempel, moving his business from the big city of San Francisco to the bustling downtown of Carrabelle was a dream come true up until last year. Sure, there's still no stoplights, no major traffic or skyscrapers, but times are changing in this Mayberry town at a very rapid pace, whether folks like it or not.

Meet Charles Hensley, his buddies call him “boots,” a commercial fisherman since childhood who's being forced off the water.

“All you have to do is look at for sale signs on boats; people can't afford it anymore,” he says.

First it was imports, then fuel hikes; now it's developers. Boots says they're sending property taxes through the roof, leaving fishermen and their families with little options.

Carrabelle isn't the only town facing these growing pains. East Point and Apalachicola are also being eyed by developers. Many businesses are selling out too in the tune of $20 million.


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