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Defense Grants Benefit Local Military Bases

Photo via Flickr//Jason Mitchell

Fourteen Florida counties will share $2.45 million from the state’s Defense Infrastructure and Reinvestment Grant Programs. The funding will provide support for community projects at 19 military installations.

Florida’s military and defense sector is responsible for almost 9.5% of the state’s economy. That translates to 758,000 direct and indirect jobs that represent $73 billion in spending.

“A disproportionate amount of these grants comes to northwest Florida,” said Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville. “And that’s only right because we have a heavy concentration of military bases and missions.”

Escambia County gets $266,000, with similar amounts going to Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties to help fund two key areas: economic diversification and base encroachment protection.

For more than 15 years the defense grants have been successful tools in supporting the state’s military installations, and making sure they’re protected and expanded. NAS Whiting Field near Milton has been the focus of a land purchase program to stave off encroachment.

“Along the way, we’ve been able to acquire approximately 3,500 acres, either in land purchases or conservation easements,” said Santa Rosa County Commissioner Don Salter, who chairs the Commission’s Military Advisory Council. He says their work in protecting Whiting Field has been recognized as the Navy’s model nationwide in encroachment protection.

“And when you look at Whiting proper and the outlying fields, there’s about 25,000 acres that, over time, needs to be protected. So we still got a ways to go,” said Salter.

After the land is purchased, that doesn’t mean it will just lie idle. Salter says buffer land can still be productive land, especially when the original owners have sold only a conservation easement.

“They can still use it for farming, they can still use it for timberland, they can use it for ranch-type activities where there are cows or horses,” said Salter. “They just can’t build permanent facilities underneath that conservation easement.”

Money coming to Escambia County will be shared with the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce. Its uses are virtually the same as the other counties – buying land to protect NAS Pensacola from encroachment; enhancing military missions and diversifying the local economy.

Calls to the Greater Pensacola Chamber seeking comment had not been returned as of late Thursday.