Governor DeSantis vetoes nearly $3 million in Okaloosa County projects

CRESTVIEW — The governor gives and the governor takes back.

Less than a month after visiting Crestview to announce a $3.2 million job growth grant to help fund infrastructure improvements at the Shoal River Ranch economic development “gigasite,” Governor Ron DeSantis has decided on a $1 million appropriation for road improvements on the state budget website.

Governor visits Crestview:Governor Ron DeSantis visits Crestview to announce $3.2 million grant for Shoal River Ranch

Valuation of gigasite:Kia turned down Shoal River Ranch in 2006. Now gigasite is ‘not a given for potential companies’

While an extra $1 million for work on the Shoal River Ranch site would have been nice, DeSantis’ decision to veto a Jericho Road improvement application, which had been approved by the Assembly legislative, was hardly a surprise, according to Nathan Sparks, the head of the One Okaloosa economic development council.

“The million dollars was a bit of a hedge in case we didn’t get the $3.2 million in Job Growth Grant funding,” he said.

Thanks to the Job Growth Grant, which came from a fund supplemented by federal COVID-19 relief dollars, the county will be able to do more than undertake improvements to U.S. Highway 90 and highways. Florida Gulf Atlantic (FGA) Railroad at the Shoal River Ranch Entrance, which the $1 million credit would have allowed him to do.

The grant funding will also allow the county to extend 2,500 feet of infrastructure along the currently unpaved Jericho road to connect it to an 88-acre parcel and a 662-acre parcel the county owns in ownership of the ranch, Sparks said.

Industrial development opportunity:Kia turned down Shoal River Ranch in 2006. Now gigasite is ‘not a given for potential companies’

The county will match the $3.2 million grant with approximately $1 million of its own funds and use $400,000 from a previously dispersed Triumph Gulf Coast loan to invest nearly $5 million in preparing the property. Shoal River Ranch for future industrial development.

The $1 million appropriation of the Shoal River Ranch was one of the few vetoes by the governor that will directly impact Okaloosa County. The governor signed the $109.9 billion state budget for 2022-23 last Thursday after using his veto power to cut $3.1 billion in spending.

While Okaloosa stands to lose a total of nearly $3 million in law-approved project funding due to the governor’s veto, it doesn’t appear Walton County is losing any direct project funding.

DeSantis’ decision to veto a $1.5 million credit for the construction of a water storage reservoir in West Okaloosa will force the county’s water and sewer department to add the project to its wish list when presented to the county commission next month.

“We will put all of the funding for this project into our capital improvement plan,” said Mark Wise, deputy director of the water and sewer department.

About 10 years ago, the county shut down three West End water supply wells over fears of saltwater intrusion, Wise said. Currently, water lines run to the southwest end of the county from Fort Walton Beach to Hurlburt Field.

Wise said existing water supplies in the area are sufficient for day-to-day operations, but could be at risk in an emergency.

Emergencies happen:Okaloosa is still struggling with sewer issues caused by Hurricane Sally

“The new reservoir will improve resiliency, prepare for future demand, and is needed for additional storage, fire protection and pressure maintenance,” the local bill in favor of the new reservoir said.

Tentative plans call for construction of the new storage tank on the east side of Rosewood Drive, north of US Highway 98, near the Santa Rosa County line. Had the project been publicly funded this year, the water reservoir would have had an expected completion date of September 2025.

Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed a $187,500 statutory appropriation to improve pedestrian safety near Hill Avenue and Anchors Street in the Fort Walton Beach Business and Technology Park.

The $187,500 plan to improve pedestrian safety near Hill Avenue and Anchors Street in the City of Fort Walton Beach Business and Technology Park was also vetoed by the governor.

The money would have been spent on the design, engineering and licensing of “complete street projects” in the technology park. The city applied for the credit to allow it to build sidewalks, bike lanes, landscaping and crosswalks, the funding request says.

A state allocation would allow the city to increase the attractiveness of its Commerce and Technology Park district while reducing the risk of pedestrian accidents, he said.

Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed $57,000 from the state budget for an auxiliary pump for Destin Harbor.

Also cut from the state budget was $57,500 that the city of Destin had requested for an auxiliary pump at Destin Harbor.

The pump is needed to mitigate the impacts of urban runoff and thermal pollution in the closed port basin, according to documents requesting state funding.

“It is necessary to pump fresh water from the Gulf into the port from March to November each year,” the funding request states. “When the main pump is not working, this does not happen and the water quality in the harbor deteriorates due to nutrient buildup.”

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