The Board of County Commissioners joined the lobbying effort for maintenance dredging of the shipping channel at the Port of Port St. Joe.
If County Commissioner Warren Yeager has his way, several more counties in the region will also board the ship.
Yeager brought forth for approval a resolution Tuesday that in broad strokes expresses support for the collaboration agreement between the Port Authority and the St. Joe Company and their combined efforts to bring maintenance dredging to the shipping channel.
The dredging is the key to two recent Letters of Intent that St. Joe has entered into with energy companies to ship as many as 1.25 million metric tons of wooden pellets through the Port of Port St. Joe.
Both agreements are contingent on the dredging of the shipping channel to its authorized depth within the next two-three years.
The Port Authority and St. Joe are working on securing permitting and funding for the dredging.
St. Joe Senior Vice President Jorge Gonzalez suggested to Yeager that a formal resolution of support from the county and other counties would be helpful, Yeager said.
“I intend to take this to other counties in the region who also believe that the port is important for economic development,” Yeager said. “This is a regional project.”
The resolution passed unanimously.
The BOCC also accepted a letter from Port Authority attorney Tom Gibson regarding a $199,000 loan from the county to the Port Authority.
The BOCC has been exploring ways to further collateralize that loan in the past two months.
Gibson’s letter lays out the Port Authority’s position that it wants to pay the money back in full but revenue is lacking at present.
In addition, a Circuit Court hearing next week will go a long way toward determining whether the Port Authority has the ability to mortgage public lands, which in effect the county is requesting.
Any further discussion on the county’s position will come after that court hearing.
Wewahitchka medical services
Given the changes occurring at the Gulf County Health Department facility in Wewahitchka, a public meeting will be held at 6 p.m. CT on Tuesday, July 30 at the Honeyville Community Center south of Wewahitchka.
Representatives from the Health Department and Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf will be present to provide information.
The Health Department ceased providing primary medical services at the end of June due to statewide budget cuts.
Sacred Heart on the Gulf is to take over those services – the Health Department will continue to provide basic public health services – sometime this month, expanding the offerings of the Health Department, SHH President Roger Hall has told commissioners.
Several testy exchanges concerning telephonic communications with commissioners took place during Tuesday’s meeting, with Commissioner Joanna Bryan the receiving the brunt of it.
Commissioner Carmen McLemore and later citizen Bill Williams, Sr. pressed Bryan about whether her county phone worked and complaints about not returning phone calls.
McLemore said he had “several” people from Bryan’s District 3 contact him saying they could not contact Bryan and she did not return phone calls.
McLemore said he had sent “my” work crew on a job in District 3.
McLemore provided one name and Bryan requested a list of complaining callers.
Bryan added that it was her understanding that work crews were “county” work crews and therefore could be deployed anywhere in the county.
Yeager said he had received some calls, but any he had forwarded to Bryan. Commissioner Ward McDaniel said he had also received one call.
“I think it is clear what is going on here,” Bryan said without elaborating. “I have received calls from your district. I will be willing to talk to anyone in the county.
“I’ll be waiting for your list and appreciate any commissioners helping out in District 3.”
When Williams later raised the issue during public comment, Commission chair Tan Smiley had enough.
He said the issue had been addressed, he was sure Bryan would deal with any problems and “some phone calls get returned and some don’t, that is the way it is” given a commissioner holding down a full-time job or business.
Beacon Hill sign
Former Commissioner Bill Williams appeared to discuss the situation with the sign that formerly promoted his business at Beacon Hill.
The sign is on the U.S. Highway 98 right-of-way and is in disrepair.
The county has cited it as out of compliance with the sign ordinance, but Williams asked for time to get the sign in shape and wondered if it could not be useful as a way to advertise Veterans Memorial Park at Beacon Hill and Gulf County.
Bryan, who succeeded Williams in the District 3 seat, said feedback from constituents and the new owner of the assisted living facility indicated people did not want the sign to remain.
“The sign is a bit of an eyesore,” Bryan said. “It is a large sign in that area.”
McDaniel also noted it was in need of repairs.
County attorney Jeremy Novak said the agreement that allowed the sign to be placed in the right-of-way is expired, an issue that would have to be cleared up before any work on the sign could take place.
Tourist Development Council director Jennifer Jenkins said she would take another look at the sign to determine if it suited the branding campaign she has implemented this year.
Bryan said before the BOCC should consider extending the right-of-way agreement, which would place the burden on Williams to fix the sign, county staff and Jenkins should assess its potential usefulness.
“Does it fit with the aesthetics and branding Jennifer has worked so hard to bring about,” Bryan said.