I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Latest from FDOT on Segment 6 (Beulah Rd. to I-10) of the Project to 4-Lane 9-Mile Road

Although we all wanted it completed earlier--the Beulah portion of the 4-lane project on 9-mile road will be completed this year!

Many folks in Beulah have been asking about the lack of progress on the project to 4-lane 9-Mile Road from Beulah Road over to Interstate 10.

I know the completion date has slipped due to numerous factors--but folks want to know what's up with this project so I asked FDOT for an up-to-the minute update and status of where we are, and I will cut and paste it below for folks who want to read it all.

But the good news is this:  Segment 6 (from Beulah Road to the Interstate--where all the gridlock is for us Beulah residents) is slated to be done this year, in late 2019.

This is fantastic news because I heard persistent rumors that it would not be complete until as late as August, 2020.

But I confirmed, today, that the Beulah portion will be 4 lanes and open to traffic by the end of this year.

From the report:

Financial Project ID (FIN): 218605-6-52-01; Road Construction Project from a point just west of Beulah Road to Below Interstate 10
FIN: 218605-7-52-01; Road Construction Project from Below Interstate 10 to a point just west of Surrey Drive (west of Pine Forest Road)
FIN: 218605-6-56-01; Utility Construction Project (relocate ECUA water and sewer mains and services) from a point just west of Beulah Road to Below Interstate 10
FIN: 218605-7-56-01; Utility Construction Project (relocate ECUA water and sewer mains and services) from Below Interstate 10 to just west of Surrey Drive (west of Pine Forest Road)
Contract time began: 3/31/16
Design began: 3/31/16
Released for Construction Plans stamped: 2/1/17
Revision #1 stamped: 3/8/17
Revision #2 stamped: 4/14/17
Revision #3 stamped: 4/25/17
Revision #4 stamped: 5/3/17
Revision #5 stamped: 7/3/18
Revision #6 stamped: 8/17/18
Revision #7 stamped: 12/26/18
Revision #8 stamped 12/7/18

Both Utility Projects FIN 218605-6-56-01 and FIN 218605-7-56-01 were completed in May 2017. The relocation of the utilities was necessary to begin the road construction. Please note that clearing and grubbing operations began in September of 2016 to advance the utility relocation projects.

Storm water drainage, unsuitable soils removal and bridge construction began in February 2017. Bridge construction was completed in November 2017.

On October 3, 2017 the Contractor implemented their Maintenance of Traffic (MOT) plan and closed the inside lanes in the existing four (4) lane section to begin construction of work beneath Interstate 10 (I-10). Due to the volume of traffic on westbound Nine Mile Rd. and exiting westbound I-10 traffic backed-up past Pine Forest Road (on Nine Mile Road and on I-10). To mitigate traffic backing up onto westbound I-10 as well as Nine Mile Road the Department directed the Contractor to remove the MOT and reopen the lanes. This started the delay to the critical path. The Contractor was directed to redesign the MOT to maintain the two (2) westbound lanes on Nine Mile Road. As the Engineers worked to modify the MOT they discovered that the limited right of way would not allow them to design a plan that would maintain both westbound lanes and allow for the lowering and increase in elevation/grade. There are specific requirements for slopes, drop-off, barrier wall, and work space. There was not enough space to meet the requirements. It was determined that a full redesign of the roadway was necessary to maintain the existing two (2) lanes. During this redesign the critical path was stopped. Crews scheduled to work were redirected to other projects and some crews were allocated to work on the roadway section between Beulah Road and Eleven Mile Creek. 

Revisions #5 was received and stamped 7/3/18 and crews were able to return to work on items that have not changes as we negotiated the cost of the changes. This delayed the project over 190 days. During the negotiations the costs were much higher than anticipated and additional redesign was needed to try to get the cost to a more reasonable limit. Revision #8 was stamped 12/7/18 and we anticipate completing the negotiations for the changes this week.

The Projects had weather that significantly impacted the work. Weather does not just affect the project for the day it rains, the impact can extend for days due to the wet conditions of the soils and lime rock base. Each lift of soil, subgrade, base, etc. must meet specific material requirements and densities. These densities are heavily dependent on the moisture content of the materials. The Segment 6 Project (FIN 218605-6-52-01) is impacted more due to the water table being so close to the surface of the ground and the poor quality of the existing soils and its ability to perk water.

The project schedule was also impacted by legal issues related to right of way takings. Several properties remain open under Stipulated Orders of Taking. Impacts from these Orders have impacted the roadway design and construction between the Eleven Mile Creek and the Interstate. In late July 2018 the access design was approved by the legal team. The approved design caused a significant amount of re-work of some buried utilities before the construction could begin. This was completed in January 2019.

The Contract’s Critical path was delayed 190 days for the redesign (identified above), 316 days due

Next Steps on OLF 8: Separating Fact from Fiction...

The folks that believe every outlandish yarn they are told will fall for anything they are spoon fed.  Time for some fact checking....

Some folks on some Facebook chat sites are throwing out fiction as fact.  Certain individuals that honestly pay attention should know better...Others that have personal axes to grind with me deliberately indulge fantasies and conspiracy theories about what will happen next on the field.  Yawn.  One onlooker who has a fascination with spinning tales about me personally has engaged in a campaign of lies and smears about me, topped-off  with personal ad hominem attacks on my character.  It is sad that some stoop to this level.  When confronted with facts that dispute the lies, this individual devolves into the politics of personal destruction.......

But now these folks apparently want to feast on outlandish claims that are being made about what will be happening with OLF 8 now that the county owns this 636 acre parcel of land out in Beulah.

So here with this post I will separate the fact from the fiction, truth from reality.  Here are the next steps on what will actually be happening with respect to OLF 8---you can check the record for yourself and take what I am writing below to the bank!

1.  As I described in this blog post from November--the BCC voted unanimously to accept and embrace a compromise document that will guide the master planning process that will happen at OLF 8 before full-scale  development of this site occurs.  (Here is a direct link to that document)

2.  At the last BCC meeting, when the discussion of this property took place, the majority of the board (myself included) signaled that the prudent way forward once we acquire this property, is to do the master plan before we submit our final application to triumph for the jobs creation grant.  One commissioner signaled his preference to immediately "recapitalize" the "people's money" (i.e. sell the whole thing as fast as possible for as much as possible).  That commissioner is alone in this position so far as I can tell from the discussion.

3.  Navy Federal and County Officials are still negotiating this week the terms to outline NFCU's commitment to fund the Master Plan for the site, guided by the document the BCC voted to approve and all applicable state and local procurement regulations and laws.  It is appearing more and more likely that NFCU will, indeed, fund the master plan.

4.  Navy Federal's 100 acre portion of OLF 8 for which they have made an offer and in exchange for the creation of an additional 300 jobs and a market price---may occur before and outside of the master planning process for the rest of the 536 acres remaining on the field.

5.  Once a planner is selected, the master planning process will take place and be completed before decisions are made on how many acres of OLF 8 will be left for job creation.  Once the plan is complete and voted forward by the BCC and once  we know the answer to this question of how much of this field will be available for job creation per the master plan, staff will submit the revised final application to triumph--and development of the field as per the master plan will commence.

These are the FACTS.

Some fiction that has been put out:

---A Giant INDUSTRIAL park is going to be constructed on OLF 8 IMMEDIATELY!  (False)

---Jeff Bergosh will single-handedly stop the county from completing the master plan (False)

I voted for the compromise, I will stand by that vote.  Anyone that says otherwise is either lying deliberately or they are ignorant of the facts.....

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Today Was a Huge Day for Escambia County and the US Navy!

Attending today's deed-swapping ceremony were (l to r, front) Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender, Escambia County Attorney Alison Rogers, NAVFAC SE Associate Counsel Susan Bird, Escambia Commissioner Jeff Bergosh, (back row, l to r) Escambia County Project Manager Cooper Saunders, Deputy County Administrator Matt Coughlin, Escambia County Administrator (acting) Amy Lovoy, NAVFAC SE Executive Officer CAPT Gil Manalo, and NAVFAC SE Asset Manager Bub Lenoir.

After decades of initiatives, years of planning, multiple strategy sessions, and countless meetings--we finally reached the finish line today.

As I explained yesterday, today was the big day we have all been waiting for. 

We took possession of the OLF 8 field in Beulah today, and we gave the property deed for OLF X in Santa Rosa County to representatives of the Navy. 

Tomorrow at 0900, the Navy will have a ceremonial ribbon cutting at their new field--so tomorrow will be a huge day for Naval Aviation, NAS Whiting Field, and Santa Rosa County.

But today was our big day.

NAVFAC SE XO CAPT Gil Manalo presented
a commemorative plaque to staff today
Today's deed exchange took place at 2:00PM with very little fanfare, in the lobby of our chambers downtown.  Representatives from NAVFAC SE in Jacksonville, County Staff, and County Commissioners took part in this brief but profound ceremony.

15 short minutes after it started, it ended.

And now we own 636 prime acres of real estate in Beulah.  Although we (Escambia County) paid a lot for this property--recent appraisals peg the value of our soon-to-be acquired property in Beulah at between $46K and $51K per acre.  This means this huge field could be worth as much as $32 Million in the current red-hot real estate market in this booming community.  This means Escambia County taxpayers will be taking possession of an asset that is valued as much as $14.5 Million over the cost of acquisition---on day one. 

The signed deed to OLF 8 was presented to Escambia County today

Yes, this is a big deal for Escambia County.  It is also a huge win for the US Navy and Naval Aviation.

This is what you call a  "win-win."

NAVFAC SE Challenge Coins were presented to staff today
by representatives of the US Navy
NAVFAC SE Challenge Coins were presented to staff today
by representatives of the US Navy

Big Day for NAVFAC SE and Escambia County Tomorrow

Today will be a huge day for Escambia County and the US Navy.  Later this morning, the last flight will take off from OLF 8 and shortly thereafter property deeds will be transferred between Escambia County and the US Government--and OLF 8 in Beulah will officially belong to Escambia County.

Tomorrow will be a huge day for Whiting Field and Naval Aviation in the Southeast though---as NAVFAC SE dignitaries and officials from NAS Whiting Field will take possession of OLF X in a ceremony at 0900 tomorrow morning at what will be their newly constructed field in Santa Rosa County.

Escambia County purchased, cleared, and constructed this new Navy facility in Santa Rosa County (Outlying Landing Field X) to the most recent DoD guidelines and specifications at a cost of nearly $17.5 Million Dollars.

In exchange for this, we will be given 636 acre site in Escambia County's Beulah community today.

Deputy County Administrator Matt Coughlin (a retired Navy Captain and former Commanding Officer of NAS Whiting) will represent the county at tomorrow's ceremony where he will present Navy dignitaries with the below "Key to the Field."  It will be a great day for them all!

This plaque will be presented to Navy Officials at tomorrow's ceremony at OLF X in Santa Rosa County

Although we (Escambia County) paid a lot for this property--recent appraisals peg the value of our soon-to-be acquired property in Beulah at between $46K and $51K per acre.  This means this huge field could be worth as much as $32 Million in the current red-hot real estate market in this booming community.  This means Escambia County taxpayers will be taking possession of an asset that is valued as much as $14.5 Million over the cost of acquisition---on day one!

Yes, this is a big deal for Escambia County today too--and tomorrow will be huge for the US Navy!


Monday, January 28, 2019

Big Day for Escambia County and the US Navy Tomorrow

Tomorrow at around 11:00 AM, a chopper like the one pictured above will leave the OLF 8 field in Beulah for the last time ---and Escambia County will shortly thereafter own this property.

Tomorrow the United States Navy and Escambia County will exchange deeds to transfer the property know as OLF 8 in Beulah to Escambia County, and OLF X in Santa Rosa County, to the U.S. Navy.

At 11:00AM,  a navy helicopter will land at OLF 8 in Beulah, and for the last time this helicopter will leave the field.  This will be the last time a Navy helicopter leaves this field.  This is a ceremonial act know as a "fly off"

Once airborne, I'm told a call will be made from the chopper directly to Navy Officials on the ground signifying that the helicopter has left and that the transfer of the property deed is authorized.

Three hours later, at 2:00PM, a small contingent of U.S Navy Officials, County Commissioners, and County staff will meet in the office of the County Attorney in Downtown Pensacola and at this point, the property deeds will be officially transferred, and we will officially own this property at this point.

Tomorrow is a big day for Escambia County and for the US Navy.  Huge day.

On 1370 WCOA This Morning

I'll be on AM 1370 WCOA this morning at 6:50 AM discussing multiple topics to include the naming of the replacement bridge over Pensacola Bay.

Should be an interesting interview.

Once I get it, I will publish the interview here.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Viewpoint Submitted last Week Brings an Attack in the Sunday Paper

This email (above) to PNJ was sent Thursday morning from the dais while I was at the BCC meeting.  Instead of considering my op-ed for publication, PNJ wrote a hatchet piece attacking me three days later in the Sunday edition.....
I wrote a very balanced viewpoint and sent it to PNJ on Thursday morning from our BCC meeting. I did this in reaction to a speaker at our meeting's public forum that made several statements that were inaccurate.   The viewpoint I sent in was a condensed version of this blog post from Monday morning of last week.  (This particular blog entry has been crushed with views this week--and has received numerous positive comments.)

But Instead of publishing it or considering it for publication--PNJ instead wrote a hit piece attacking me this morning which is ridiculous and disappointing.  Most folks who take a step back and look at this whole bridge-naming issue can clearly see that a compromise is in order here.  And this is exactly what I have proposed in my viewpoint.  Too bad PNJ didn't print it.

But then I started looking into the PNJ's previous writings on the plan to name the bridge after General James--and lo and behold apparently they have already made a decision on this via an editorial that was printed over the Christmas holiday last year.  I was out of the state and did not see it when it was first printed.  Okay, so PNJ believes that this is a great plan--no problem.

But what is wrong with taking a step back, asking some important questions, and figuring this whole thing out via a rational process--or even a citizen's committee?  What is wrong with my idea of honoring both men?  I guess this must simply be "TOO Controversial"---not my idea of having a dual designation on the bridge--but rather having the audacity to disagree with a position with which the PNJ have already taken.


Friday, January 25, 2019

What is the Value of OLF 8 in Beulah, Part III

Just because the hypnotist gives you bad information does not mean you have to be one of the sheeple that actually believe the fiction

As I have explained in part I and II--just because one person and his entourage want to make you believe a valuable piece of property is not valuable does not make this fiction into reality.

Just because less than one year ago someone told you a 636 acre piece of prime real estate was "only worth $4.75 Million" (when as it sat, at that time, it was worth $20+ Million)--does not mean that person was right.  He was wrong.

The fact of the matter is that the OLF 8 property in Beulah that the BCC is poised to take possession of next week, is likely worth more than $30 Million dollars.

We know this because we have now received back 2 estimates for the value of just 100 acres of this 636 acre parcel.

Our initial appraisal from last week pegged this  portion of the  property at $45K per acre.  Our second estimate just came back Thursday at $51K per acre.

Extending these values out to 636 acres gives a total potential value of between $28.6 Million and $32.4 Million.

And so it begs the question--how could one person be so wrong about something this profoundly important?

Almost as important:  how could so many people have believed this false and incorrect information?

Moral of the story--don't always believe what the hypnotist tells you, trust your own intellect and eyes.  Don't listen to the pom-pom girls and cheer squads that parrot the incorrect data.  And when someone starts to rack up "misses" one by one, one after another, all over the place--perhaps it is time to actually start looking to other sources for the right and factual information instead of being one of the sheeple that blindly trusts the hypnotist over his own instincts.

That's just my two cents worth....

Questions that Must be Answered Regarding Renaming the Replacement Pensacola Bay Bridge......

We are two plus years away from completing construction on Pensacola Bay's replacement bridge linking Pensacola and Gulf Breeze via HWY 98--but some folks want to rename the bridge starting now.  And there are a lot of unknowns and unanswered questions about this initiative......

At yesterday's meeting of the Escambia Board of County Commissioners, a very animated, motivated speaker came before the board during public forum.  He is and was advocating that Escambia County get behind an initiative to rename the replacement bridge that is being constructed over Pensacola Bay.  He wants it named the "General Daniel R. 'Chappie' James Memorial Bridge."

Currently, the official name for the bridge is the Phillip Dane Beall., Sr., Memorial Bridge.

Contrary to what the speaker intimated at yesterday's BCC meeting, though,  the replacement bridge that is being constructed will carry the same designation as the bridge it replaces. 

I have confirmed this fact after requesting staff weigh in on this and after personally speaking with several individuals in Tallahassee with firsthand subject matter expertise in this arena.  According to one highly-placed source  "when a bridge is replaced, it’s designation remains the same; remember, those designations are done by Legislative act"
(of course a subsequent legislature can change the name with new legislation if they so choose.)

But absent any pro-active legislative moves to do this, the designation stays the same for the replacement bridge--which in this case would mean that the new bridge will remain the "Phillip Dane Beall, Sr., Memorial Bridge"  That's #1.

#2 is just common sense:    If it is so important to honor Chappie James (who is a very deserving historical figure--no question about it) by putting his name on this replacement bridge--why not honor the request of the descendants of Senator Beall and work amicably toward a joint designation like "Beall/James" Memorial Bridge?  I discussed the reasoning for this course of action in this previous blog entry.  Why push to rip the previous name off this bridge? 

#3---And what about this:  I have heard that there may be a movement to rename the bridge to honor Senator Don Gaetz (The Senate President that helped secure the funding for this bridge and also the person who pushed to insure this bridge did not become a toll bridge--as is becoming all-too common around the state as funding sources for these infrastructure projects are extinguished)  Why is this not being considered?--seems reasonable to me given all that Senator Gaetz has done for the panhandle over his many years of dedicated service.  And think about it this way:  The last two individuals that had the distinction and honor of having the bridge named for them were the two people that secured the funding for the bridge(s) that would carry their respective names.  So there is precedent for this....

#4 is a dose of common sense:  Who ever names a bridge two plus years before it is even completed?  Why is this being pushed and rushed forward--while we are still 2+ years away from completing the bridge?  Where is the fire??  This is borderline disrespectful to the legislative delegation.  This is their call, and nobody elses, in the final analysis.  So why are people attempting to preempt the legislative delegation here?

#5 is a series of questions for which I'd like to get  rational responses:  Where is the plan?  Has FDOT blessed the idea of putting a static Jet Display and statue where this group wants to place these things?  Won't this conflict with traffic flow?  Who will pay for the design and traffic engineering for making traffic safely flow from HWY 98 to this display and back on HWY 98?  How much will this cost if FDOT and the Federal Government even allow it---and who will pay this cost that could be millions of dollars if the current plans have to be modified?  How much, and who pays?  I want to see this data. Does this data even exist?

Big ideas like this initiative are fine--heck they even get exciting sometimes.   But big ideas require thoughtful consideration and time to be studied by the public and by the experts and elected officials that will ultimately decide such issues. 

Big ideas must be vetted, researched, and most importantly--they must be assembled in an orderly, intelligent, well-planned manner.  I don't know why the City Council took the vote they did, that is their right to do so. I think it may have been premature.  That is just my opinion.

But I'll guarantee this:  If this same question is brought before the Board of County Commissioners on the 7th of February as one of my counterparts proclaimed---There will be a  robust conversation and I will want answers to my questions above (and a list of about a dozen more I will bring to the meeting) before I would ever consider moving this forward to a vote.

Because this initiative does not seem like it is ready for prime time yet so far as I can tell........too many unknowns, to many unanswered questions.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Honoring a Man's Service Should Not Become Fodder for a Controversy

The current Pensacola Bay Bridge is named in honor of former Senate President Phillip D. Beall--this photo from the 1960s documents the bridge's ribbon cutting ceremony where Florida Governor LeRoy Collins presided.....

As we celebrate today's Martin Luther King holiday and celebrate all that this leader did for our country--it is great to see so many people recognize his influence and contributions to the civil rights movement in America.  It is great that communities around our nation have freeways, streets, buildings, schools and/or bridges named for Dr. King.

Again--this is a great thing.

The Escambia County School Board has named numerous educational facilities in honor of local leaders---to include the ECSD's former administrative building on Garden Street.

The Vernon McDaniel Building at 215 W. Garden Street was the school district's administrative headquarters until 2010.  It was named for an African-American civil rights pioneer;  McDaniel, the man,  was the principal of Booker T Washington High School and he was the first African-American elected to the Escambia County School Board.  He was also the first African-American to become Chairman of the Escambia School Board.  He fought for equal pay for black school administrators and won this change through a settlement agreement with the school district.

In late 2009, the school district purchased Gulf Power's then administrative building at 75 N. Pace Blvd.  It was known by many as the "Gulf Power" Building, or the "Pace" bldg.  When the school district renovated and moved into this new administrative facility--the board was lobbied by the descendants of Vernon McDaniel to name the new school district administrative facility the "Vernon McDaniel" building.  We did this (I was a member of the school board at that time), and there was no controversy at all.  We did this because previous leadership in the school district had clearly intended that the school district's administrative HQ be named in honor of this man--this was the intention.  And so we honored the will of the leaders that championed that designation.

Fast forward to early 2019 in Pensacola and a new bridge is being constructed from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze to replace the existing one that is nearing the end of its useful service life.  The bridge currently carries the designation of  "Phillip D. Beall Memorial Bridge."  Phillip Beall was a Florida state senator and senate President in the 1943.

According to current policy and statutory regulations, FDOT intends to maintain the existing bridge's designation and apply it to the replacement bridge once the new structure is completed in 2021--because the intent of the state's legislative action of 1962 that gave this bridge this designation was that the bridge connecting Gulf Breeze with Pensacola was to honor Senator Beall.

But now here comes the controversy.....

Some folks want to take away the state's designation of this bridge and instead rename it in honor of General Daniel R. "Chappie" James--a deceased Pensacola resident who was a Tuskegee Airman and the nation's first African-American 4-Star General.

There is no doubt that Chappie James and the James family's descendants are deserving of this honor.  No question at all.

The surviving family of Senator Beall, however, would prefer to keep the name of the new bay bridge as the Phillip D. Beall bridge is is standard practice and as comports with state law and administrative practice.

But seeing the brewing controversy--the Beall family has offered an olive branch in the form of an initiative to have the new bridge carry the designation of BOTH men--Senator Beall and General Chappie James.   Thus far, this offer has apparently fallen upon deaf ears--which is disappointing.

The movement and the group behind renaming the bay bridge in honor of Chappie James apparently have no interest in allowing the replacement bridge to share the designation jointly.  This group wants the bridge renamed for General James.  This group instead prefers to honor Sen. Beall with a memorial plaque at the foot of the new bridge--while actually renaming the new bridge to honor General James.  They intend to accomplish this via a legislative change in Tallahassee.

But is this the right way to go about this?

As I look back at what the school district did in 2010--I can't help but wonder what would have happened if we would have yanked away the McDaniel designation and replaced it with some other worthy individual's name?  What if the designation was changed and a non-African-American figure was instead honored?(there are/were many worthy teachers, administrators, fallen war-hero former students, school board members, and/or others that might very well deserve this honor...many

But really, what would have happened? What names would we have been called if we pulled this designation?  I don't know for sure but it would have been ugly and embarrassing....Glad it didn't happen is all I'll say--because we did the right thing with that decision.

And so nobody knows how this new bridge-naming controversy will turn out.  For my part, I would like nothing better than to have to two factions work together to achieve an amicable resolution to this issue that all sides could respect. 

Because after all--if we could bring both of these men back to life and show them the bickering and machinations taking place behind these "efforts"--I believe both men would be disappointed.  They know what most of us know.

Honoring a man's service and legacy should never become fodder for controversy.......

Friday, January 18, 2019

What's the Value of OLF 8 in Beulah, Part II

Above:  a portion of our most recent appraisal on 102 acres of the 636 acre OLF 8 site has been presented to the Escambia BCC

I did part one of this post last March.  I was right then, and the naysayers were dead wrong--and many of us knew it all along.

Today we got the proof.

Last March, as we pushed forward with completing the land transfer deal with the Navy for OLF 8, four of the five commissioners wisely voted to stay the course.  Utilizing only the sales data available at that time, and the most recent appraisals available for the property at that time, even the most casual observer just 10 months ago could clearly see that the value of the 636 acres of OLF 8 would at a minimum exceed the $17.5 Million taxpayers through the BCC expended to acquire this property.

It was really easy to see.  Except for those who would not accept reality.

So these naysayers pushed back.

One famously stated that the property "Was only worth $4.75 Million!" --which was ridiculously stupid and way, way, way off the mark.  Not surprisingly, others naively parroted that badly mistaken talking point.  But they were wrong then, and definitely proven so unequivocally now.

Today we received our first new appraisal on a portion of our soon-to-be acquired OLF 8 property.

As can be seen in the picture above, the appraisal for just this 102 acre part of the 636 acre property is $4.5 Million, or $45,000.00 per acre.  If that value holds true for the entire 636 acre tract, we will be looking at more than $28 Million in value--a value more than $10 Million dollars above our acquisition costs of $17.5 Million.

The moral of the story is this:  Just because somebody says something--even if they say it convincingly and with a straight face--does not make it true.

Luckily, the four of us had it right and pushed forward with the correct action, and now all the taxpayers in Escambia will reap the eventual benefit!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

What is Going to Happen at OLF 8?

The BCC had a good discussion today concerning the way forward on OLF 8 in Beulah

Chairman of the Board Lumon May signed the RE Deed today for the OLF 8/OLF X land swap.

This is happening.  At the end of this month, we will own the property in Beulah known as OLF 8.

And now we have two offers on the table for the purchase of OLF 8.  One from Navy Federal Credit Union and one from a private development partnership.

The total of these offers is $22.2 Million dollars, and the county has spent roughly $17.5 Million to acquire this property.  If we were to simply sell this property we would have a windfall of $4.7 Million PLUS our seed money of $17.5 Million back all at once.  This money would be put into LOST categorical funds and it would be available for use on infrastructure projects county-wide, in each of our 5 commission districts.  So we are coming to a head, we are at a decision point.  Something is going to occur.

This all said--------- what is going to happen at OLF 8?

The board discussed this all at today's committee of the whole.

I'm still going to push for the jobs creation aspect of this project--because to just sell 530 acres to a developer would  KILL our $30 Million dollar Triumph jobs project while simultaneously all but guaranteeing that more high-density, high-impact traffic producing residential housing units would be built on the field.  I do not support more residential and neither do the residents that live out in Beulah like I do. These residents know what I know---our infrastructure is not ready and cannot handle any more residential.  We have too much already.

One commissioner made it known that he wants to sell right away, as soon as possible, and recapitalize the public's money. He also stated flatly he did not support economic development incentives from the government. This commissioner is/was alone in this position so far as I could tell from today's discussion.

I would only support doing this (selling the property outright for the highest price we could get) if there were not three votes on the dais to stick with the jobs creation.

Luckily, there are three votes,  as the other four of us want to maintain the focus on job creation and providing some amenities for the community; they want us to follow through with the master planning process utilizing the document we arrived at via compromise two months ago.  This was my takeaway from listening intently to the discussion taking place today.

This is good news for nearby residents who have told me in no uncertain terms that they do not want more traffic-producing, gridlock exacerbating residential housing out here at OLF 8.  They know what I know:  Having 1000 good jobs on the back of the field in nicely designed, attractive facilities and with a predictable traffic flow (8:00AM and 5:00PM) beats the alternative of thousands of high density residential units with multiple cars per unit going every which way all day and night 24-7, 365 days a year.  The jobs project will simply be much easier to accomodate than any more residential given our insufficient existing infrastructure....

Obviously there are folks that wanted no further development.  There are those that hate NFCU.  There are those that wish Beulah today was like Beulah in 1960.   I get that, but I don't have a time machine and this project was rolling down the runway full-speed ahead and with $Millions of Dollars of taxpayer money invested when I joined the board in late 2016.  I inherited this project.  But I am smart enough to see the best way forward in this circumstance is to go the jobs route, demanding some amenities for the residents, and bolstering our existing infrastructure with the resultant grant monies.  This is the intelligent way forward that apparently all but one commissioner sees with crystal clarity...

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The District 1 Public Library is Coming!

A 4'X4' sign will like the one above will soon be placed at our newest library location in District 1, on the former site of the Wells Fargo Bank on Mobile Hwy and Bellview Ave.

We have purchased the former Wells Fargo Bank building on Mobile Highway near Bellview elementary school.  We are in the process of re-purposing this facility as District 1's first public library.

According to staff, here is the latest information on the state of this project:

"As it stands now, a design firm will be chosen by April of 2019, the design will be finalized by September 2019, and work will be started December of 2019 with construction finished a year to a year-and-a-half later. Keep in mind all of these dates are tentative and can change."

"We were able to reserve the Bellview Elementary School, across the street from the new library sight [SIC], for Monday, February 25, 2019 with an intended 6:00 pm start."

The meeting on the 25th of February will be for the benefit of the public, and it is expected that we will give updated project timelines and details at this meeting in February.

I can't wait for this library to open, what a benefit this will be to northwest Escambia County and District 1!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Participation Trophy Redux.....

People seem to agree that awarding trophies for all "participants" in children's' athletic leagues is a no-no. They make serious videos about this on social media and they throw the trophies away! It's funny how the same people expect participation trophies for school discipline and school academic work though--and somehow this dichotomy is perfectly acceptable. A former counterpart of mine on the school board summed up his philosophy very succinctly on the subject of earning grades versus  being given marks that were not earned.  His comments were given in a meeting we had in April of 2015:  "It's all about being honest and true with those kids.  It's not 10-year old baseball where everybody gets a trophy.  You earn it. And it needs to always be that way." 

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with a recently retired middle school teacher.  This teacher taught for many years at an Escambia County District 1 Middle School which I won't name.

I have known this teacher for a number of years and can say with confidence that this person is a straight-shooter, a retired military officer, and what this person says is true--this person would not lie about something having to do with the schools-or anything else for that matter so far as I can tell.

As we talked some politics and current events, the subject of teaching came up. Invariably the topic of school discipline came up. Yes, this teacher lamented the lax discipline and the torn up referrals.  This teacher didn't care for that.  And then I segued into an area of special interest that I pursued when I was on the school board.  "No Zero Grading"  (If you want the history of this, you can read what I wrote on this subject a few years back here, here, here, here, here and here.)

My opinion on this in a Nutshell:  No Zero grading is a horrible, terrible construct that coddles students and forces teachers to give grades to students that are not earned.  And the system rewards students who are lazy, while simultaneously punishing students that work hard and try their best.  Nobody gets less than a 50% ever, no matter what, even if work is not completed.  It artificially inflates student grades, allowing students to earn passing grades where these same students, based upon their actual work and mastery of the subject, would fail in truly rigorous systems like the ones you and I and most of us went to when we were in school.

(So I'm glad when I read about teachers and entire school districts that push back against this scheme...)

Like the dumbing-down of discipline expectations and punishments that was rampant in the schools locally and nationally to produce "better and lower suspension numbers"--this is the dumbing-down of .academic rigor and expectations.  It's lazy.  It's feckless.  It short-changes students. It's modern day social promotion.  It's dishonest.   And most importantly--- it does not prepare students for the realities of life and the real world.

"Yeah, that was a standard expectation at the school---I thought everyone knew this?" was the reaction I got when I told this teacher this surprised me.  "I never liked it, I was never comfortable with it--but we were expected to do it.  And at the end of the quarter and  semester, the principal would put pressure on us to move these students' grades up" this teacher continued. "If I had 150 students and 15 or 20 were failing, I was  put on the spot because of it--even though the students were getting the grade they earned"  this person continued.  "I did not like it and again--I never felt comfortable with it but it was what we were expected to do" this individual continued.

I left the school board in late 2016 after serving 10 years.  I brought this "No Zero" grading issue up in early 2015 when I got wind of it-------and the board was told "This is NOT happening in this district"

So it is somewhat infuriating, but not entirely surprising, to hear this teacher say that it is and was happening, as a standard practice,  up through last year when this teacher retired.  

In 2015--when I got a whiff of this happening without the board's approval (and in contravention to the school board's grading scale and policy), I brought the issue to a meeting and the board and the superintendent discussed this.

My District 2 Counterpart on the school board at that time, Gerald Boone, made one of the most profound speeches I ever remember hearing him give --and it was on this subject.  It was short, but as usual he was spot on. As a 35 year teacher, he didn't seem to support giving students grades for work they did not do. His powerful, three- minute statement on this subject starts at 54:50 of the first video section of this meeting People should watch this

And the superintendent at that time assured us this was not happening in this district.  He even

Monday, January 14, 2019

What are the Current Impacts, Locally, of the Federal Government Shutdown?

As the shutdown approaches 25 days, some folks have felt no impact.  Some have felt moderate impacts.  Some are massively impacted because they are not getting a paycheck and they are furloughed.  Our lobbyist in Washington DC put together this list of impacts late last week (Jan. 10th):

"Subject:          Impact of the Government Shutdown

...the continuing impacts of the shutdown are detailed below:

With no funding for the Department of Homeland Security, immigration officials and border patrol officers are among those furloughed or working without pay. While judges and clerks are home, asylum cases are continuing to pile on to an already backlogged system, reaching over 1 million on the docket. Neither are companies able to utilize the E-Verify system to ensure they are hiring documented works, as the service are unavailable until the funding crisis is resolved. This issue means many companies, such as manufacturing firms who hire primarily immigrants, are scrambling to find workers.

Meanwhile, unpaid agents are taking in more than 2,000 migrants per day, many of them families and children, and have nowhere to detain them. This has led to the undocumented immigrants being released into border cities. There are also many asylum seekers coming to the border crossing with influenza, bronchitis, and other infectious diseases. Two children have already died in U.S Border Control and Protection custody, leading to extreme tension and concern over welfare.

Of the 245,000 employees at DHS, only about 14% will be paid. 179.000 will work unpaid, while 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Stay the Course to a Better Solution

I believe we did the homework and the four of us made the right decision.

Just because the cartoon guy didn't do his homework, does not mean the four commissioners did not do ours.  I met with the engineering staff on this project particularly several months ago.  It was fraught with issues. I met individually with multiple residents that were opposed. I listened intensely at the forum, and I made the right decision that I stand by. Not 1 resident showed up to support it this project. Like I said in the meeting, this plan was not ready for prime time, it needed to be massaged so that the residents could get behind it.  I believe we as a board made the right choice, even if one of the commissioners and the cartoonist disagree.  We stay the course for the right plan and carry on.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Private Development Group offers Escambia County $18 Million for 530 Acres of OLF 8

We haven't even taken title to this property (OLF 8 in Beulah) yet from the Navy.

And already Navy Federal Credit Union has offered us $4.2 Million for 100 acres.

Today, a private development partnership has sent a written letter of intent to purchase the remaining 530 acres (the portion NFCU is not purchasing) for $18 Million.

This is intriguing, and this would put us firmly in the "black" ($4.7 Million to the good) on this property if we move both of these offers forward and convert these offers into sales.

In order to complete the transactions, our attorney has clearly articulated that we would have an obligation to surplus any property and offer it for purchase to the highest bidder before simply acting on an unsolicited offer from an outside group.  Obviously we will follow the law with respect to whatever we end up doing with this property.

It is intriguing.  I'm certain this issue will be discussed this week when the board meets.  I look forward to these discussions.  See the LOI we received below:

Fixing the Fire Service Budgeting in Escambia County

Is there a way to more intelligently budget for the fire service in Escambia County?  Answer--yes...

The budgeting for fire service in Escambia County is being discussed this week.

I met with the Fire Chief and Director of the Emergency Services yesterday afternoon.

Currently, we fund fire services with an MSBU that every dwelling in the county pays, it is $125 per unit in the unincorporated areas of the county.  And this generates the money necessary to pay the 300+  county firefighters (160 are volunteers) and pay expenses associated with the department's operations.

But this amount of money generated is not keeping up with costs.  So here is where the rubber meets the road in answering the following question:

How do we adequately fund this service while not simply raising tax rates on property owners?

I believe the answer requires a few initial steps and some creativity--but I believe we can do it.  Here's how:

1-----Have the fire service (and EMS) only utilize Local Option Sales Taxes going forward for equipment purchases (equipment that qualifies under the LOST referendum) to free up

When the Gulf Power Tree-Trimmers Come by Your Property...

I had a call from a concerned Beulah resident. She is and has been concerned about the way Gulf Power's (Now Next Energytree-trimming crews are cutting down trees and leaving stumps. She gave me some great information back from the contractor that I'm sharing now.

Obviously, branches and tree limbs must be cleared away from power lines to protect against outages--but there are some consequences of this activity.

According to this resident, the following is applicable to the tree-cutting process this current contractor is using.  from her email:

"they have two different trimming processes in Beulah. 

With vegetation easement - Two years ago, Gulf Power tried to get property owners to sign "vegetation easements" and some did.  If the property owners signed, then Gulf Power has the right to go in 15' from their property line to "manage" vegetation.  The crew foreman will talk with the property owner before starting work, he said.  The foreman will tell them if he plans to take down a tree entirely, and the property owner should say they want the stump ground at that time.  If the property owner does not bring it up, it is not done (though they have gone back months later when customers complained). 

Without vegetation easement -  Gulf Power can cut overhanging branches at the property line.  The foreman will knock on your door and discuss what they plan to do before they start (not sure what happens if you are not there).  Sometimes, it would be better to cut the branch within the property line so that it will heal better, and the foreman will sometimes ask permission to do that.  Or the property owner can give permission to cut down a tree entirely if they want to.

So it essentially comes down to what residents have agreed to and what they insist on when the work is done"

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

They Really, Really, Really Do NOT want us to #OpenOurBeach......

Condo Owners near the County's 330 foot parcel of Beachfront property love to use our beach as their own "private" beach.  They even advertise it!  Now that we're going to #OpenOurBeach--a group of condo owners are going to court to try to stop us.  They like it the way it is, because it is a comfortable status quo for them.

First, the folks that never wanted us to do what we voted to do (namely, to open our 330 foot Gulf-Front parcel in Perdido Key for habitat conservation AND Public Beach Access) intentionally perpetuated a comfortable status quo where no action was taken on our land at the beach.  The parcel just sat there.  No habitat fencing, no signage describing the sensitivity of the area, no "no trespassing" signs or "keep out" signs cautioning beach goers not to venture into the dunes.  Nope. Only a "No Trespassing" and "Private Property" sign at the road, along with a locked, fenced gate to keep folks from parking there. And no public beach access.  For four years.

This pleased some special interest developers and a number of nearby condominium owners who really wanted no development at all on that site while the condo owners enjoyed unfettered access to what had become their own "private beach."

It was great for those that already "had theirs" but it was untenable for the county taxpayers, the OWNERS of that parcel who, by this purposeful inaction, were being kept OUT of accessing this prime Gulf-front land.

Every excuse in the book was being put forward--but none of it withstood even the slightest bit of scrutiny. Some people said it was all "political"--but they were wrong.  It isn't political, it was never political, it's about doing what is right.  And so shortly thereafter ----the BCC's Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to grant a conditional use permit for public beach access at this location after the BCC voted to put funding forward to #OpenOurBeach.

So now come the lawyers of the Condo Owners, trying to get the Circuit Court to overturn the BCC and BOA decision to #OpenOurBeach.  They have filed this document hoping to slow down our work to #OpenOurBeach.  What a shame, how disappointing.

But it's not surprising to those of us who've followed this. Because these special interests really, really, really don't want you and I going out there and using "their" beach.  It's shameless.

But we will fix it and we will throw a massive beach party this year, this summer, when we #OpenOurBeach.

For those that are just now tuning in to this mess--if you want the full backstory--just hit the #OpenOurBeach hashtag in this blog's search bar (or on my commissioner's facebook page) and you will get it all.

Navy Federal Credit Union Makes a Formal Offer of $4.2 Million for 100 Acres of OLF 8

NFCU has offered the Escambia BCC $4.2 Million for 100 acres of OLF 8.  Not mentioned are the 300 jobs and the offer to Master Plan the site....

UPDATE--12:00-  I just received a call from NFCU leadership;  although the 300 additional jobs issue does not appear in the written offer to purchase the land from the BCC--that pledge of an additional 300 jobs as additional consideration for the 100 acres still stands, and language to this effect will be worked into any finalized deal made with the county to purchase this land, according to NFCU's interim President of Greater Pensacola Operations Kara Cardona.


Navy Credit Union has made a formal, written offer to purchase 100 acres of the County's soon-to-be acquired 636 acre site in Beulah known as OLF 8.  The offer was made on December 19th, just as everyone (myself included) was focusing on holiday plans, travel, and family.

This offer was not entirely surprising, though.

Two months back-- NFCU sent a letter expressing interest in 100 acres for the purpose of providing additional parking for their employees, a recreation field, and other amenities which would allow them to also add an additional 300 jobs (over and above the 10,000 they are already slated to add under previous agreements).

I responded directly to NFCU when that offer was made.  I reiterated the importance of the jobs creation aspect of this land and our Triumph Gulf Coast application.

As I read through the newest offer, I see the 300 jobs created language is not present in the terms.

This is problematic.

The 300 jobs are of CRITICAL importance.

In order to receive as much as $30 Million dollars from Triumph Gulf Coast (which will help fund regional stormwater infrastructure and offset the county's $17.5 Million dollar acquisition costs associated with OLF 8)--a minimum of at least 1,000 good wage-paying jobs must be created with