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Escambia Co. Prepares for 2017

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Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown says the county faces a number of challenges in 2017 -- some holdovers from previous years, and others specific to this year.

One of the new challenges comes from Tallahassee for local governments seeking money for infrastructure projects. New House rules mandate that such projects be more tightly vetted. 

“The Senate really hasn’t changed how they’re doing business,” said Brown. [But] the House has changed many things that [we] used to be able to get through by putting together a rider on a bill. We’re working with our legislative delegation; we’ll see how that works through the process.”

Local work includes the restoration of Bayou Chico, the Muskogee Road Freight Corridor, and the Innerarity Island Development Corporation. Elsewhere, work continues on building a new Escambia County Jail, to replace the facility that was heavily damaged in a 2014 flood and explosion.

“Currently, we are reviewing the architectural design and contractors; we’re going through the qualifying process right now,” Brown said. “Once the firms have been qualified, then they’ll start going out for Requests for Proposal.”

Once the RFPs are returned, they’ll be submitted to the County Commission for presentations.

Environmental issues will keep the county busy in 2017, including the Government Street stormwater project. Brown says their work focuses on a mosquito control facility that’s been there since the Eisenhower administration. Escambia County is also working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection involving a landfill in the Wedgewood neighborhood, and two stormwater construction sites in the Tanyard area of Pensacola.

“Tanyard, we continue to monitor the old mosquito control center, and we’re in good shape with that,” said Brown. “Wedgewood – DEP is moving forward with their plan to close the Wedgewood site. They ran into a delay based upon the enormous amount of rain we had in the past month.”

The year 2017 will also see another shot of RESTORE Act money from the BP oil spill flowing into the county – roughly four million dollars. Also getting BP money is the ferry service linking Pensacola, Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens. Scheduled to begin around May, word has come down that the project is on hold amid a new search for an operator.

“I think it’s being held up because of the lack of respondents to the RFP that went out, and so, they wanted to go out for bid again,” said Brown. “My understanding is that there was an initial email sent out, that there were some concerns and they would try to have a meeting." 

That meeting was held Friday, among the National Park Service, Escambia County and city of Pensacola. A launch date before the 2018 tourist season was agreed upon. 

On the personal side, a car collided with Brown’s motorcycle a year ago, resulting in minor injuries to Brown. He’s retired the hog at the behest of his wife and two daughters, and joins the chorus of those urging motorists to watch out for bikes.

“I ride in from Molino every day and I’m amazed at the number of people I see texting, eating, reading newspapers, putting on makeup,” said Brown. “Somebody pulls in front of you or if you’re not really looking out for motorcycles, sometimes they’re hard to see.”

In April, Jack Brown will enter his fourth year as Escambia County Administrator -- the longest tenure as Administrator since the late George Touart’s run from 2002-07.