State agencies not talking about tree-cutting investigation in Topsail Hill Preserve

Article Courtesy of  The Northwest Florida Daily News

By Jim Thompson     

Published August 26, 2020

SANTA ROSA BEACH — Authorities are remaining tight-lipped regarding a May incident in which four people were caught cutting down trees in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

"As this matter is under active criminal investigation, we are limited in our ability to comment," Alexandra Kuchta, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), said in a Tuesday email responding to a Daily News request for information on the status of the incident.

Kuchta went on to note only that the FDEP, one of two state agencies investigating the incident, "is committed to enforcing Florida's environmental laws and we would be happy to provide you with an update once our investigation is finalized."

The email provided no indication of when the investigation might be completed.


A spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the other state agency investigating the incident, was not immediately able to say Tuesday whether that agency was prepared to provide any updates on the investigation.

Meanwhile, posts on social media continue to express concerns about the incident and wonder about any pending action against the four people.

Early on as news of the incident began to develop, the homeowners' association for the nearby Cypress Dunes neighborhood indicated that the people were residents of the neighborhood, but provided no more specific information.

The four people were caught in the act of cutting down trees within the preserve by a nearby resident and park volunteer Bill Potter. They left before authorities arrived on the scene, but Potter captured his encounter with them on video.

At the time, Potter told the Daily News that a neighbor heard a buzzing sound coming from the park on the night of May 29 that he assumed was a drone or a power drill.

But as the sound persisted the next day, Potter and the neighbor went up on a balcony to search for the source of the noise, and the neighbor saw a tree fall in the preserve.

Potter headed through the park in the direction of the noise, and when he encountered the group, they told him they worked for the park, but left the area during the encounter.

Within a couple of days, social media posts were claiming to have identified the people involved, at which time the Cypress Dunes HOA issued a cryptic statement noting, in part, that they believed the men were neighborhood residents.

“While these individuals have been respected members of our neighborhood for many years, please know that their actions go against the values and ideals of our community,” the statement noted.