The Board of County Commissioners last week approved an economic development agreement with the St. Joe Company.



The Board of County Commissioners last week approved an economic development agreement with the St. Joe Company.

Barring any substantive change in content after review by St. Joe attorneys, said county attorney Jeremy Novak, the document would be signed by Jorge Gonzalez, St. Joe President and CEO.

The agreement, Novak added, was intended as a “supplement” to a similar collaboration agreement between the Port St. Joe Port Authority and St. Joe.

In fact, the agreement focuses in its entirety with the potential of the Port of Port St. Joe and its emergence as “the primary catalyst to the future business and job growth in Gulf County and the surrounding region.”

The agreement binds neither party to specifics and the term of the agreement is three years with a 90-day out clause for either the county or St. Joe.

And the language, Novak said, provides an “umbrella” for future collaborations and agreements in the future.

Noting that the county, in significant measure through the Port Authority, and St. Joe have real property and other physical assets in the port planning area, the document spells out the rationale and objectives.

“The County and St. Joe understand the potential benefit of working collaboratively … to maximize the economic development opportunities at the Port” and restates the belief, shared by local economic development officials in recent months, that a supplemental agreement bringing in the county “will assist” in maximizing those goals.

The County also recognized the “unique and abundant” opportunities to be created “for this and future generations from the success that is accomplished in partnership and cooperation with St. Joe in developing and growing the Port of Port St. Joe.”

The document presumes additional agreements to accomplish specific projects brought to the table by either party and the ability, and flexibility, of either party to enter into separate agreements to achieve the common goal.

The agreement arrives at a critical time for the Port of Port St. Joe.

Port and county economic development officials have long contended that a private/public partnership with St. Joe was a key to fully unlocking the vast potential of the recently-signed-into-law Triumph Gulf Coast legislation, and the tens of millions of dollars earmarked for economic development projects in the county it will bring.

Given that the 300 acres of the port planning encompasses both St. Joe and public lands, including the former Arizona Chemical site, some kind of framework had to be in place beyond the agreement with the Port Authority.

The bulkhead on the former mill site, in St. Joe hands, is a linchpin to shipping out of the port through the federally-authorized shipping channel.

And, Eastern Shipbuilding is not only leasing a portion of that bulkhead, but it also owns roughly 60 acres along the Intercoastal Waterway.

If nothing else, the county agreement continues the BOCCs’s recent role at the table championing port development; the BOCC has provided funding in the past to maintain basic Port Authority operations.

The agreement can also be perceived as taking further shape in the recent state budget, which included $6 million for a dry-dock and dredging around the port turning basin lobbied for by the county and to be used by Eastern Shipbuilding.

In addition, $6 million long-pledged for improvements to the rail line, again lobbied for by the county and owned by St. Joe, that links the Port of Port St. Joe and markets north, was also appropriated.

Bear battles

Commissioners agreed to abandon normal bid practices in order to take advantage of a grant of roughly $25,000 from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to facilitate the purchase of bear-resistant latches for trash cans.

The county must encumber the money by the end of the month.

However, after initially seeking quotes and forwarding those to the FWC, as instructed, the agency came back requesting the county follow normal bid procedures.

That yielded no formal bids.

While Commissioner Freddie Whitfield said the whole program sounded like a government mess, his fellow commissioners expressed a desire not to let free money get away.

Commissioners approved moving ahead with purchasing the hardware based on the lowest initial quote.

The first latches will be provided to the homeowners at Gulf Aire, which was selected as a pilot project for the program.

The homeowners’ association will handle the paperwork and disbursement, county staff indicated.

Veterans park dedication

The renovated and upgraded Veterans Memorial Park at Beacon Hill will be formally dedicated 10 a.m. ET Thursday, June 22.

The park is receiving a $1 million makeover with funds stemming from the Natural Resources Damage Assessment pool following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The park, with a new amphitheater and wall honoring veterans, hosted its first event over Memorial Day weekend.

During the special meeting last week, Commissioner Ward McDaniel mentioned a county hope to have a walkover constructed over U.S. 98 to link the park with the beach.