2018 shaping up as a significant year



The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday was aligning the eggs that will, hopefully, fall into one of several baskets containing millions of dollars in the coming years.

Talking Triumph Gulf Coast and RESTORE Act projects during its monthly meeting, the board took stock of what is in the pipeline, while county staff said next month would be a fine time to put it all in front of the public.

Though entirely different in creation and dollar amounts and goals, Triumph and RESTORE evolved from fine dollars stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In total, the county stands to see, at minimum, $90 million devoted to local projects over the next 15 years.

On the Triumph side, the picture in the short-term will become clearer next week.

The Triumph Gulf Coast board is meeting in Apalachicola and has pegged that meeting as decision time on the more than 100 pre-applications for projects received from across Northwest Florida.

The board is hoping to determine projects to move forward to full application and others to request additional information with the goal of funding in future years.

Gulf County is requested $28 million for a dry dock facility and associated infrastructure to facilitate the expansion of Eastern Shipbuildidng to Gulf County.

The cost estimate, Warren Yeager, executive director of the county Economic Development Coalition, is strictly a guess.

“That is totally an estimate,” he said.

Yeager arrived bearing a request from the Port St. Joe Port Authority for joint ownership of the dry dock facility, which is currently to be in county hands, but commissioners and staff said that was a question for down the road.

Much remains unknown about the dry dock proposal and Eastern’s plans.

Eastern and the county have entered into a statutorily-dictated procedure for establishing a public-private parternship, and the county is also in talks on a joint operating agreement with the St. Joe Company, which owns the bulkhead on the former paper mill site.

Much of the information remains, per statute, confidential and proprietary.

Deputy administrator Michael Hammond said that all parties, which includes the city of Port St. Joe, are “rowing in the same direction” and discussions are positive.

In addition, he said, the goal with the dry dock was keeping it in public hands since public dollars will pay for the design and construction.

“We are not at that point” to consider ownership particulars, Hammond said. “But we will get there.”

Another factor in play is exactly what percentage of the project would be funded from Triumph and what kind of local match might be required, Yeager said.

That local match may have to come from a private partner, Hammond said, and that could impact ownership stakes down the road.

“There are still a lot of unknowns,” Yeager said. “There are still a lot of unanswered questions.”

Commissioners agreed with a staff recommendation to hold a workshop prior to next month’s regular board meeting to provide an update to the public on the various projects moving ahead in the county.

“There are a lot of exciting things on the horizon,” Hammond said.

On the RESTORE side, commissioners approved for advertising beginning next month a five-year implementation plan.

Over the next five years, the county’s direct RESTORE allocation, so-called Pot 1, will be roughly $5 million, Yeager said.

Some of the projects in the plan would need to be tackled in phases, but the plan provided, at the least, downpayments and “earnest” money to move ahead.

A welding program at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School remains on track with a goal of opening with the 2018-19 school year.

Septic-to-sewer projects in Port St. Joe and Wewahitchkha are also in the plan.

An underwater structure to impact currents and erosion rates along St. Joseph Peninsula is also included, with so-called Pot 3 funds, those coming from a consortium of state coastal counties, also available.

Two new additions would be land acquisitions.

One would be to purchase land and a building at 401 Cecil G. Costin, Sr. Blvd. in Port St. Joe, a former bank, which would for the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Mike Harrison has looked for new quarters for several years, his office having outgrown its facility.

The new building would also allow the consolidation of county 9-1-1 services under one roof.

“(The building) has everything he needs,” Commissioner Ward McDaniel said of Harrison. “It has all the security, parking, everything.

“The sheriff has been very patient.”

The price tag on the building and land is $1.1 million with owner-provided financing, reasonable terms and an affordable downpayment.

While it may take a few years to pay off, Yeager said the central goal would be accomplished.

“We are trying to do the whole project without any property tax money,” Yeager said.

The other land acquisition, which commissioners approved pending another appraisal, would be Lower Landing in the Howard Creek area.