Sunday, January 30, 2011


As reported below, the 22M expansion is going to be a major asset for the City of Crestview and will be another reason for the migration to the City of Crestview.

Florida Freedom Newspapers
CRESTVIEW — The $22 million expansion at North Okaloosa Medical Center is complete, two months ahead of schedule. Construction of the 40,000-square-foot patient tower wrapped up this month. A grand opening is scheduled for Feb. 6. The addition will provide 48 more beds. Patients will be admitted Feb. 12. Hospital staffers toured the addition last week. “The rooms are so big!” imaging specialist Angela Maloy said as she stood in one of 20 private rooms in the first-floor intensive care unit. Alcoves off the nurses’ stations on the first and second floors allow crash carts, blood pressure machines and other mobile equipment to be parked safely out of hallways when not being used. The second floor’s “step down” unit’s 28 rooms also are private. The unit will replace the hospital’s progressive care unit. The existing ICU, which only has six beds, and PCU will be remodeled for other uses. The addition was designed to withstand hurricanes and can accommodate two more floors as future growth demands. For now, four ICU rooms will remain unoccupied until they are needed. Technology includes dialysis hook-ups in every ICU room. Video hook-ups allow an off-site neurologist to see a patient within the crucial first minutes of a stroke. Interventional cardiology equipment will allow the hospital to do most heart-related procedures. “Now we can do everything heart-wise except open-heart surgery,” said Rachel Neighbors, North Okaloosa Medical Center’s marketing director. The tower does have one piece of tried-and-tested oldfashioned technology. An X-ray film reader near one of the first floor nurses’ stations is the only one in the tower. “We expect everything will be digital,” said Heath Evans, the hospital’s administrative specialist who spearheaded the expansion project. For ambulatory patients and visitors, a landscaped courtyard opens off of the new facility. The large waiting room just outside the ICU includes a private consultation room for family members to meet with doctors. The new addition is expected to provide 25 to 30 new jobs at the hospital, not including the medical staff. The tower prompted improvements throughout the hospital. Ninety percent of its heating and cooling plant is new, Evans said. A new generator has been installed, and the same line of new furniture in the patient tower is being moved into all patient rooms. “The whole hospital has been so upgraded from where we were,” Evans said. With the tower complete, renovation of the second and third floors of the main hospital will follow, Neighbors said.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Okay folks, I hope you can see what is happening now. 10 Years of growth in two years. This is great, but we still need to have the lenders free up some money to accommodate this growth. HOMES, HOMES, HOMES are in short supply, and with Special Forces Group, F-35 Training Squadron, Vision Airlines HUB in Fort Walton Beach, and by the way, Eglin demolished close to 1700 homes in the last year or so with no plans of constructing any in the near future, we are need something done NOW.

The Army Special Forces and Vision Airlines will be a shot to the arm for the region, Rick Harper says
Northwest Florida Daily News 315-4448

OKALOOSA ISLAND — The United States might be slow to recover from the recession, but a local economist projects Okaloosa County will experience what normally would be 10 years of growth in the next two years. Rick Harper, interim director of the Office of Economic Development and Engagement at the University of West Florida, was one of the guest speakers Wednesday at the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County’s annual Military-Community Sustainability Forum. The forum is designed to provide an avenue for community and military leaders to share their plans and address issues that affect them. “I expect this to be a year of unprecedented growth for Okaloosa County,” Harper said. “If you simply look at the jobs that we’re expecting, just the positive shot to the local economy that results from the BRAC relocations, from the announced arrival of Vision Airlines serving more than 20 destinations, that’s about a 10 percent bump to direct employment in the area. “We’re going to be growing rapidly and the challenge once again as we look back to the last decade is going to be how do we manage that growth effectively and how to turn it to the benefit of those who live in the community and meet our missions?” he added. Harper said Vision Airlines will have a huge impact on the tourism market in Okaloosa and South Walton County. Southwest and Delta airlines provided a 7.9 percent increase in tourism for Panama City after last year’s opening of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, which added 1,100 new seats flying into Bay County every day. Harper said Vision Airlines’ increase is more than four times that amount. “The economic future is bright. It’s happening in 2011 and it’s going to put us back on the path we should have been on if not for the oil spill,” Harper said. Wednesday’s forum also included a panel discussion that featured some of the top commanders at Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field and Naval Air Station Whiting Field. Construction of the cantonment south of Crestview for the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) is ahead of schedule. “A lot of people ask me when 7th Special Forces is going to get here,” said Lt. Col. Martin Schmidt with the Special Forces. “When are we coming? Really, we’re here.” Schmidt said 103 soldiers of the 1,887 in the group already have been assigned to Eglin. Between 70 and 80 soldiers will arrive in April, and starting May 1 between 90 and 150 soldiers and their families a week will be relocated to the area. That will continue until the move is completed Sept. 15. Schmidt said the 7th Special Forces Group will add a fourth battalion in the near future. That will mean a total of 2,247 troops and 6,000 dependents in the region. Marine Col. Arthur Tomassetti, vice commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing, also gave an update on the delayed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. At the same event last year, Tomassetti said the first two fighters were expected at Eglin last fall. Tomassetti said Eglin now expects to have 10 to 14 fighter jets on base and ready to fly by the end of the year. “We’ve got the right people on our team to deal with those changes and handle them,” Tomassetti said. “Things will be a little different than what we thought they’d be, but that’s OK because we’re still going to do it smart, we’re still going to do it safe and we’re still going to do it right.” Naval Air Station Whiting Field also is getting new aircraft. It is replacing its aging T-34C Turbo Mentor fleet with 150 Beechcraft T-6 Texan IIs. Capt. Pete Hall said Whiting Field already has 54 of the planes and will receive about one a week for close to two years. “We needed this aircraft and it’s coming to us one at a time,” Hall said.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Okay folks. University of Florida says everything is getting better. Have you known a Gator to tell a lie? Maybe, but not in this case. Every day more and more positive things are being released and real estate buyers are starting to look at options to buy. One thing this area has is a lot of buyers coming to town, and not by choice. The U.S. Military has not only directed the movement of two large military commands (Joint Strike Fighter Squadron and 7th Special Forces Group) this year, they also have about 25-30% of the local military being moved in and out, as well. Oh by the way, now we have Vision Airlines opening their HUB operations here and creating 4200 jobs, as well.

UF: Floridians grow suddenly optimistic about economy
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jan. 25, 2011 – Consumer confidence among Floridians soared an unexpected seven points to 77 in January from the revised December index score of 70, according to a new University of Florida survey. The increase is the largest since the index rose seven points from March to April 2010, and the score of 77 is the highest since the April 2010 mark of 78. “The size of this increase in confidence among Floridians was not expected,” said Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “Confidence among Floridians had been mired in the low 70s for the past few months, consistent with other economic indicators that characterize the Florida economy.” Each of the five components that make up the index registered gains, with the largest increase coming in the perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next year category, which climbed 12 points to 78. Confidence in that category had been mired in the 60s for eight months. Confidence in purchasing big-ticket items, such as cars and appliances, rose eight points to 84, and perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years also reached 84, a six-point increase. Perceptions of personal finances now compared with a year ago rose four points to 55, and perceptions of personal finances a year from now rose two points to 83. The sizable increase in confidence is even more surprising, McCarty said, considering the unemployment in Florida remains at 12 percent and the Florida housing market dropped in value. McCarty thinks the unexpected rise may have resulted from sustained gains in the stock market over the past two months and recent media coverage that has focused on an improving economy. McCarty said the Dow and S&P Industrial Average have steadily increased and the current bull market is expected to continue through the year. McCarty said the gains are being driven by leaner companies that have a more international footprint than in the past. Floridians are benefitting as their investments in the stock market – either directly or through 401(k) and pensions – have improved their portfolios, McCarty said. Despite the increase in confidence, unemployment and declining housing prices remain troublesome. While most economists expect marked improvement on the job front over the next year, McCarty said, unemployment will remain high. Over time, however, new jobs outside the construction sector will replace those lost, and many unemployed Floridians who are near retirement will choose early Social Security at age 62. The median price of a single-family home in Florida dropped to $133,100. McCarty said the housing declines have been less dramatic over the past year and prices aren’t expected to plummet, but further declines are still possible. McCarty said inflation will become a factor over the next year with the price of gasoline and basic foods increasing. And he warns that inflation could be a long-term problem unlike in previous periods. McCarty said much of the rise in inflation is driven by increased and permanent demand for growing economies, such as China and India. Although the rise in consumer confidence was unanticipated, McCarty cautions that the index could return to previous marks. “Looking forward, we expect consumer confidence to fall back to the low 70s, particularly as both the federal and state government announce many of the inevitable spending cuts to balance budgets,” McCarty said. “Many of those cuts will affect Florida consumers directly and will potentially affect the stock market, which is the most positive indicator this month.” The research center conducts the Florida Consumer Attitude Survey monthly. Respondents are 18 or older and live in households telephoned randomly. The preliminary index for January was collected from 418 responses.

Friday, January 21, 2011


As recently reported in the Tallahassee Democrat, Florida A&M University will establish a new Education Center in the heart of Crestview. This program, as well as, some of the recent improvements toTroy University and Northwest Florida State University Campuses in Crestview, will make Crestview a lot more attractive to families moving to the area. Again, stay tuned, Crestview has some more news to be release about the future growth of their area. This snowball is getting bigger and bigger every day and from what I know, it is not going to stop anytime soon.

FAMU approved to establish new center in Crestview
Democrat staff report • Published: January 20. 2011 6:35PM

Florida A&M University was approved Thursday by the Florida Board of Governors to establish a new educational center in Crestview, according to a university release. FAMU will offer a doctor of pharmacy program there beginning in fall 2012. Crestview sits about 150 miles west of Tallahassee. “We are pleased that the board voted favorably for this project that will not only extend our services to the panhandle, but provide an economic boost for the City of Crestview,” FAMU President James Ammons said in the release. “When FAMU was given the land-grant status, it was envisioned that FAMU would be engaged in extension and outreach that would transform lives and communities. This center will do just that.”The City of Crestview transferred the building that will house the facility – formerly known as the Alatex Building – to FAMU in 2010. Enrollment will be limited to five graduate students in their advanced pharmacy practice training in the first year, and FAMU plans to enroll 30 undergraduate students by 2013 and 60 graduate and 60 undergraduate students by 2016.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I had the pleasure to be invited to the official announcement of Vision Airlines at the Emerald Grande and I can tell you, excitement was in the air. This announcement is not something that will take years to implement. It starts in March 2011, that is this year! As promised in earlier BLOGS, I told you big things were getting ready to happen, which will make the Army 7th Special Forces and F-35 Training Squadron movement seem small. I will warn you now, this announcement of Vision Airlines is one of many more to be announcement in the very near future. The problem, which is not a bad problem to have, will be how fast can we build homes to accommodate these folks. Again, as always, banks and investors are needed to assist developers and builders.

Vision Airlines announces Northwest Florida expansion, Governor touts job creation
Tom McLaughlin
2011-01-18 21:53:18
DESTIN — The cat was out of the bag by the time Gov. Rick Scott and local dignitaries announced Tuesday that Vision Airlines’ would make Northwest Florida Regional Airport its hub. But that did nothing to diminish the excitement. “I’ve told people who’ve asked me that I think 2011 is going to be the comeback year for this area,” said Destin Mayor Sam Seevers. “And I think about what today is going to mean for us … this is unprecedented in terms of business impact.” Vision’s decision to use Northwest Florida Regional as its base for 20 commercial flights will generate a regional economic ripple expected to produce nearly 4,200 jobs and bring in $160 million in revenue, state Rep. Matt Gaetz told those gathered for the announcement. Gaetz said those figures were generated by experts at Northwest Florida State College. They come as welcome news to a community hurt first by the economic downturn and then last year by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Scott called Tuesday a “most exciting day.” He said bringing in 4,200 jobs in the first two weeks of his term seemed a decent first step toward the 700,000 he’s promised to create in the next seven years. “I figure 150,000 more meetings like this one and I’m done,” he quipped. Nearly everyone who spoke credited Okaloosa County Airports Director Greg Donovan with doing much of the work to get Vision Airlines to locate in Okaloosa County. David Meers, chief operating officer for the airline, also credited Mark Bellinger, executive director of the county’s Tourist Development Council. “Without his vision and enthusiasm this wouldn’t have happened,” he said. Donovan said the effort to bring Vision Airlines to Northwest Florida started long before Tuesday’s announcement. “It’s been years in the formation and months in the development,” he said. “It was like nitroglycerin; we got the spark and everything began firing together.” Based in Suwanee, Ga., Vision Airlines hopes to succeed by offering direct flights to and from places such as Baton Rouge, La., Knoxville, Tenn., Louisville, Ky., and Miami. That came as welcome news to at least one of the many business people on hand for the announcement. “I used to say that when I died, regardless of the direction I was heading, I’d have to go through Hartsfield (airport) in Atlanta first,” said Merrill Lynch executive Tim Krueger. “I’m pleased to report that as of today that’s not the case. Hallelujah.” From now until Sunday, the airline is offering flights from Northwest Florida Regional to any of its destinations for $49 one way. “You can’t drive to Miami for that,” said Donovan. He told reporters that the airport, which is located on Eglin Air Force Base and shares a runway with the base, is equipped to handle Vision Airlines’ expansion. The Air Force actually enhances the airport’s efficiency. He said the hundreds of military personnel and contractors who travel to and from Eglin will benefit from the direct flights. Larry Sassano, head of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, said Vision’s decision to locate locally is a step toward economic diversification for the area, which is heavily reliant on tourism and the military. Scott challenged those who attended his press conference to do what they could to make the airline successful. “This is just a beginning. Everybody here needs to make sure everybody you come in contact with knows what Vision is doing,” he said. “If you do that they’ll have more success than they ever imagined, and we’ll keep growing.”




‘This is our hub’
Vision Airlines will add service from Northwest Florida Regional to 17 new destinations
Northwest Florida Daily News 315-4448   It has been called the biggest airline announcement since the formation of JetBlue Airways in the late 1990s.
Today, Vision Airlines will formally announce the expansion of its service to 17 new destinations from Northwest Florida Regional Airport. The locations of the new destinations were first reported by USA Today on Monday morning. The new destinations were selected as locations as ways to help stretch the tourist season in Northwest Florida. “This is our hub. We’re putting out roots in the ground here and growing here,” said Clay Meek, marketing and business development director for Vision Airlines. “This is just the beginning of what we could do.” Vision Airlines, along with Visit Florida and the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council, has scheduled a ceremony for 3 p.m. today at the main stage of HarborWalk Village in Destin to make the formal announcement of the new destinations.

Starting March 25, Vision Airlines will offer flights to and from Northwest Florida Regional Airport to 12 new destinations including Atlanta; Huntsville, Ala.; Savannah, Ga.; and Louisville. A week later on April 1, service will start to and from Chattanooga, Tenn.; Shreveport, La.; Asheville, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; and Orlando.

Meek said only about 3 percent of Northwest Florida’s current tourists get here by flying. Vision Airlines has targeted cities whose residents already are driving here for vacations. About 29,000 people from Asheville, N.C., drive to Northwest Florida each year, he said. In Louisville, it’s almost 90,000. “I’m not trying to change what people are doing,” Meek said. “They’re already coming to Destin. I’m just trying to give them a better way to get here.” Prices for the new destinations normally will start at $79 one way; however, they are offering a special rate of $49 one way for any of the new markets when booked between Jan. 18 and 23. Florida Gov. Rick Scott will speak at today’s announcement, as will Vision Airlines COO David Meers, State Rep. Matt Gaetz, Okaloosa County Commissioner James Campbell, Destin Mayor Sam Seevers and Legendary CEO Peter Bos. Vision Airlines started service out of Northwest Florida Regional on Dec. 17, offering weekly flights to Miami and Niagara Falls.

Monday, January 17, 2011


I guess Panama City Beach can’t hide no more. Some of the latest projections by local Economist show Panama City Beach making a strong showing this year. One of the things that will help that will be the new Panama City International Airport.

AOL Travel Names Panama City Beach “Top 10 Budget Destinations” 01/14/11 - 03:25 PM Panama City Beach, Fla:
Recently heralded as one of five top value destinations for winter travel by, Panama City Beach has now made the list of AOL Travel’s “Top Ten Budget Destinations for 2011.” The article emphasized affordable accommodations and oil-free beaches, as well as mentioned two major events which occurred in 2010: the opening of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport and a news-worthy visit from the Obama family.
“We are thrilled to add this recognition to Panama City Beach’s list of accolades,” states Dan Rowe, President/CEO of Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. “With the wide spectrum of accommodations, dining and entertainment options offered here, we are proud that our REAL.FUN.BEACH. destination is considered an affordable hot spot for 2011.”
Panama City Beach was in good company, with domestic and international destinations like Montreal, Cancun and Washington, D.C. also making the cut for AOL Travel’s list, which can be viewed in its entirety here:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Look out panhandle, an explosion is about to happen and it is not a bomb. The area is in a buzz as a number of Army Special Forces are making a weekend trip to look for new homes prior to them reporting for duty, as well as, getting familiar with the area. As you will see below there are a number of other exciting things happening and the area is just trying to get ready.

Army Special Forces, potential new businesses could provide economic 'shot in the arm'
Dusty Ricketts
2011-01-11 18:44:47
NICEVILLE — Experts expect a strong turnaround in the local economy, which has taken a beating from the recession and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Building Industry Association of Okaloosa and Walton Counties hosted its economic and housing forecast for 2011 Tuesday morning at the Niceville Community Center. Guest speakers were Rick Harper, director of the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of West Florida, and Kay Rasmussen, vice president of community and economic development for the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council. Although she was not able to release details because of confidentiality agreements, Rasmussen spoke generally about several large companies the EDC is hoping to attract to the county. “There is a lot of activity (going on in Okaloosa County),” Rasmussen said. “Strong growth is the answer and we have got a lot of strong activity taking place and that is very promising for all of us.” Project Quest, which will be formally announced in the coming days, is an aviation modification company that will bring in 25 to 50 new jobs initially and require about $1 million worth of new construction. The EDC also is working with several avionics service companies about locating in the Crestview Industrial Air Park. Rasmussen is hopeful that the EDC will be able to announce which companies will move there within the next few months, but said the organization is working with two companies that would bring in 600 jobs to the site. A pharmaceutical manufacturing company that is considering moving to Crestview would bring 500 new jobs. The company is considering building a new facility or expanding an existing building. While the EDC does not normally work with retail projects, it is talking with representatives of a large-scale shopping development to be located on the south side of Crestview. “Crestview is very strong,” Rasmussen added. “One, it’s the proximity to the 7th Special Forces Group. Another reason is they have the area to grow. They’ve got the land up there.” During the recession, Harper said Florida was losing 500,000 employeed workers a year. That job loss has stopped, and he said Northwest Florida’s top three economic drivers — the military, health care and tourism — remain strong. Retail sales from tourism in Okaloosa County dropped from $65 million a month to about $53 million a month because of the BP oil spill, but Harper said tourism will rebound faster than most other areas of the economy. He said other parts of the country and the world are recovering faster from the recession, but that people still will want to vacation in Northwest Florida. Harper also highlighted the incoming Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), which will increase the county’s workforce by about 6 percent in a matter of months. That will be a big step in the area’s recovery, he said. “This is a one-time shot in the arm as far as direct jobs go,” Harper said. “It is massively important and it means over the next five years that Okaloosa is going to be a high-growth county for Northwest Florida.”

Monday, January 10, 2011


The following is a story by the Pensacola News Journal on January 9, 2011 addressing the jobs growth and influx of the 7th Special Forces and F-35 Training program. As noted, these decision will greatly impact the Northwest Florida in a major way. As I have noted on previous Blogs, the indirect impact is growing as more and more people are giving the Northwest Florida a strong look for both residential and commercial opportunities. Another note, this is not wishful thinking, it is happening NOW and to be honest, we are not ready now, however, things are happening to try to catch up.

Jobs march, fly into Pensacola area

Troy Moon • • January 9, 2011

The Army is marching into Northwest Florida, long a hotbed of Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force personnel. The 7th Special Forces Group is being relocated from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County, bringing about 2,200 soldiers and their 3,800 dependents to Florida's Gulf Coast by September. Add to that an expected influx of about 1,500 airmen and their 2,500 dependents to Eglin as a result of the Department of Defense establishing its first F-35 Lightning II training wing at the base. That mean means 10,000 new Northwest Florida residents in 2011. And it's also the best jobs news for this area as the new year begins. Not just the jobs that the soldiers and airmen will fill. But the additional jobs that must be created to accommodate the needs of all the new residents. Unemployment still hovers between 10 percent and 11.6 percent, and there are at least 235,000 people unemployed in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Most of the new residents are expected to live in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties, but there will be spillover to Escambia County. "There will be a direct effect on the Pensacola Metropolitan Area as a result of that move," said Jim Hizer, CEO of the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. "They're bringing in 500 soldiers every month. And they're bringing their families. You're talking about 1,000 people a month moving to Northwest Florida. There's going to be an effect on housing. Small business is going to feel it. Secondary jobs will be created as a result.

More families, more jobs

The military additions at Eglin will create 3,389 secondary jobs across Northwest Florida this year and a projected 4,279 new jobs by 2015, according to a study by the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of West Florida. The heaviest gains will be in construction (422 new jobs this year), retail services (910 new jobs) and business and financial management (363 new jobs). The 7th Special Forces Group is expected to complete its move into Northwest Florida by Sept. 15. "We're looking at 100 to 150 families moving into Santa Rosa County," said Pete Gandy, Team Santa Rosa's military affairs consultant. "Some are already here and looking for homes. And some of the dependents will be looking for jobs. And their addition will create jobs as well." Jim Breitenfeld of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County said the Army's move into Eglin will have a projected $506 million impact on Northwest Florida this year, rising to more than $560 million by 2016. According to an Economic Development Council study, each new soldier will have a $230,000 annual impact on Northwest Florida. "By the year 2015, there will be many more jobs," Breitenfeld said, adding that those jobs are in addition to the military positions moving to Eglin. "It's a good thing. There's no negative that we can see at all."

Friday, January 7, 2011


When the newly elected Florida Governor said he was going to make Florida business friendly, he did not waste any time. The below are some major steps in doing just that. It is better late than never.

By Zac Anderson
Published: Friday, January 7, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
In a move with the potential to unravel decades of growth management and environmental policy, Gov. Rick Scott has named two agency heads who have strong ties to the state's development industry. Scott, who has promised to rid the state of "job-killing" regulations, named Billy Buzzett, a land-use lawyer who has worked for one of the largest developers in Florida, to lead the state Department of Community Affairs, the state's top agency for regulating developers. Scott has also indicated his support for diminishing the role of the DCA by merging it into several other agencies, including the Department of Transportation. At the Department of Environmental Protection, the state's top environmental agency, involved in issues including restoration of the Everglades and oil drilling, Scott tapped Herschel Vinyard, a lawyer and executive with a Jacksonville ship-building company. Vinyard has previously represented businesses in environmental cases. The appointments, which drew praise from some business groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce, are an indication that the new administration may be ready to significantly scale back growth-management and environmental regulations, such as laws requiring developers to pay for new roads or requiring major developments to go through a regional-impact review. Growth control advocate Dan Lobeck calls Buzzett's pick to lead DCA a "radical" choice, arguing that a developer should not be in charge of development regulations. "If there every was a case of the fox guarding the hen house, this is it," Lobeck said. "This is a full-scale abandonment of growth management in Florida." Lobeck believes Buzzett is being brought in to systematically dismantle the DCA. "I expect it's not going to be long before he's known as 'Buzz-saw Buzzett' for seeking to cut down the remnants of growth management rules in Florida," said Lobeck, a Sarasota land-use attorney and president of the citizen's group Control Growth Now. However, some Tallahassee-based environmental lobbyists, who have worked with Buzzett, said he tries to balance development interests with environmental concerns. "He's a development lawyer -- and there are gradients of developers – I always viewed Billy on the green end of that spectrum," said Eric Draper of Florida Audubon. Vinyard – who previously worked in the same law firm as Florida Republican Party Chairman John Thrasher – is more of an unknown among the environmental community. However, Vinyard does serve on a DEP panel involved in the protection of the lower St. Johns River; Draper said those who have worked with him describe him as "very sharp and easy to work with." Vinyard has also served on the local chapter of the Trust for Public Lands, an environmental group involved in the acquisition of conservation land – a key role for the state agency that he will lead. "Our big job with the DEP, with this governor, is to convince them that in fact our environmental rules help the economy, they don't hurt the economy," Draper said. "We appear to be working against the belief system that environmental rules are bad for jobs." As for these new appointments' ties to industries that faced state regulation, Draper said such relationships are not unusual in Tallahassee. For instance, former DEP Secretary David Struhs left the agency to work for a paper company that had sought a major environmental permit from environmental regulators. Another DEP leader – Mike Sole – left the agency for Florida Power & Light, the state's largest utility. "It's not like there isn't a revolving door already," Draper said. In the case of the new DCA secretary, Buzzett spearheaded a number of controversial developments during his tenure with St. Joe, a real estate company that has rapidly reshaped the Florida Panhandle as the state's second largest landowner. He helped sell a plan opposed by many Gulf County residents to reroute U.S. Highway 98 away from the water in Port St. Joe so the developer could have more waterfront land for a condo project. The debate over a new airport built on St. Joe land outside Panama City was even more heated. Environmentalists strongly opposed the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport because of the impact on nearby wetlands. A majority of Bay County voters disapproved of the project in a referendum but Buzzett helped steer it towards approval, increasing the value of nearby St. Joe lands. The airport opened last year. Water quality samples collected by Patrice Couch of the St. Andrew Bay Resource Management Association, a Bay County environmental nonprofit, showed stormwater runoff from the site is polluting the bay and creeks. "They muddied up the creeks and polluted them just like we predicted," Couch said. But even people who strongly opposed Buzzett's work at St. Joe call him charming and intelligent. They describe him as a gifted pitchman who was able to face public opposition with professionalism and a smile, never losing his cool. Said Couch: "He was a great front man for St. Joe." Buzzett grew up in the small Panhandle fishing village of Apalachicola. He retains an air of southern congeniality and likes to mention that he is a fifth-generation Floridian, said Linda Young of the Clean Water Network. Young was often at odds with Buzzett over St. Joe developments. "He can disarm people with his folksy good old boy I'm just one of you bubbas approach when needed but there's nothing slow or unsophisticated about that man," Young said. "He's sharp as a tack and he gets what he goes for." Scott's picks to lead the DEP and DCA still face a confirmation hearing in the state Senate – although that appears a given. In fact, in recent years, House leaders have been aggressive in their efforts to dismantle the DCA – although the Senate did not go along with the plan. Scott's agency selections follow a report from his transition team released late last month offering a blueprint for such a dismantling. That document recommends that Scott overhaul and, essentially, reduce the independence and power of agencies assigned to protect Florida's natural resources and control growth. The recommendation calls for merging the departments of Transportation, Environmental Protection and Community Affairs into a single agency Later, the report calls for "eliminating" some of the state's primary regulatory powers over major residential and commercial Developments. The report recommends ending a layer of oversight known as Developments of Regional Impact. This designation comes into play when developers seek to build massive subdivisions or business areas, or whole communities such as Lakewood Ranch. Because these developments affect not only local communities, but can drain water resources and increase traffic throughout an entire region, the regulation requires that state planners review the proposals to make sure they are compatible with communities outside the local government's jurisdiction. But Scott may end that oversight. And that is just the start. The report also calls for eliminating the requirement that developers plan for increased traffic and other infrastructure needs. Lobeck said eliminating so-called "concurrency" rules that require developers to pay for expanding or improving roads if they increase traffic and make other infrastructure upgrades would cripple the state's growth management law first enacted in 1985. "Concurrency has been called the linch pin of growth management," Lobeck said. "Which means if you pull it out everything else collapses." For the DEP, the transition report talks about "streamlining" the environmental permitting process. It raises the potential for the state regulations to pre-empt tougher local government rules and cites the possibility of easing regulations on the destruction of wetlands and stormwater runoff.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


President’s gavel for the Northwest Florida Military Officers Association handed to me for the 2011 calendar year by Lieutenant General LeRoy Manor. This is a great honor for me to undertake and a great opportunity to understand and stay updated on the future of our local military programs. As the U. S. Coast Guard would say, “Semper Paratus”, Always Ready.