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Escambia County 2016 Outlook

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Flickr//Andrew Bardwell
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As part of WUWF’s look ahead to 2016, Dave Dunwoody recently sat down with Grover Robinson. In November, Robinson again took over as chairman of the Escambia County Commission.

“I’m hoping this time we don’t have an oil spill or some other natural disaster like the last time when I was chair,” said Robinson, noting that plans for rebuilding the Escambia County Jail Central Booking facility that was destroyed in a gas explosion during Pensacola’s April 30, 2014 flood event.

According to Robinson, other important issues to come before the board will include decisions on stormwater or flood management projects and finalization of changes on Santa Rosa Island. Additionally, in Robinson’s District 4, he says the county will continue construction of Olive Road, where a third lane will be added in some places and a number of other improvements will be made.

On the issue of Escambia County getting its share of RESTORE dollars, Robinson believes local leaders need to be prepared to show up and put up a fight for what they get noting that most of the people and the legislative power in the state lies beyond the Panhandle.

“The problem is simple math,” Robinson said. “Only five percent of the people in Florida live between Pensacola and Tallahassee; that means 95 percent of the people are in the remainder of the state. The numbers are not real good, so clearly we have to be vigilant.”

He says when your only provision is state law and representatives in the central and southern parts of the state have the numbers to change state law at any time they want to, something has to be done.

When it comes to project rankings for RESTORE funding, Commission Chairman Robinson expects the board will take a hard look at what they want to accomplish when members meet in January.

“I think there will always be projects,” said Robinson. “I’ve always said there are going to be projects, but I’ve always said before we started looking at projects, I think we should have been implementing goals.”

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Credit restorethegulf.gov//noaa
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restorethegulf.gov//noaa

As an example, he applauds the approach of the state of Florida, which placed a priority on water quality improvements.

“It’s good, the work that’s been done in the scoring, but the projects that are scored need to accomplish a goal,” he said. “If they don’t accomplish the goal to restore the environment or restore the economy, then we haven’t done what we were tasked to do.”

Also, Robinson notes that the $69.5 million Escambia County is slated to receive in RESTORE money would not be enough to totally fund any one problem the county has. He points to the new jail facility that’s estimated to cost over $70 million.

As for the County Commission’s recent 4-1 decision on rebuilding the central booking facility at its former site, Robinson cast the lone dissenting vote, highlighting the flood problems at that location.

“The challenge is we have that area, we want to solve the water problems in that area, but you don’t do that by making more impervious surface, more parking lot, more building.”

Robinson says rebuilding on that location on Leonard St. is the will of the board, and so it’s going to happen, although he does not expect construction on the exact same footprint.

In the coming year, the Escambia Commission will officially take over the Santa Rosa Island Authority and establishing a new norm where home and business owners will pay property taxes and not lease fees.

And, as it relates to economic development, the county plans to complete the process of swapping Outlying Field 8, next to the Navy Federal campus at Heritage Park, with a property in Santa Rosa County. 

“It’s gonna allow the Navy to do their mission at a much more cost-effective, less encroached place,” said Robinson, adding that it will allow for Navy Federal’s on-going expansion. “Clearly, we’ll continue to focus on whatever we can do to make the community better, so that the existing companies that are here will continue to hire.”