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Lynchard Faces Challenge From Newcomer Wright

Photos courtesy of Lane Lynchard and Colten Wright

In Santa Rosa County, three seats on the Board of Commissioners are up for grabs. In Districts 1 and 3, the incumbents face multiple challengers. The District 5 race is a Universal Primary, featuring a head-to-head matchup between Republican incumbent, Lane Lynchard, and his GOP challenger, Colten Wright.

“Are you tired of flooding, frustrated by heavy traffic and feel like no one is listening? My name is Colten Wright and I’m running for County Commission for District 5,” said the Gulf Breeze business owner, making his pitch for change in a video on his Facebook Page.

“My opponent has been in office for 12 years and has voted against impact fees three times since 2009. Santa Rosa County’s population has doubled since 1990 and we have failing roadways, outdated infrastructure and we have homes flooding, causing thousands of dollars in financial hardship to the homeowners,” Wright continued.

He maintains county leaders have not kept pace with growth or demand in the county for decades, failing to listen to voters. “We can’t afford to do this any longer,” he said.

“My board implemented impact fees for education earlier this year. The building industry has filed a lawsuit over that,” began Lynchard, in response to a League Women Voters question about the issue of impact fees to help pay for growth, on WSRE’s Rally candidate forum.

“At the rate Santa Rosa County is growing, I don’t think a reasonable impact fee would hurt our county or the affordability of housing. Our property taxes are among the lowest in the state,” Lynchard said. “We have to have growth pay for itself. People vote with their feet and they’ve been flocking to Santa Rosa County for the last 20 years.”

While Santa Rosa commissioners are now planning for transportation and law enforcement impact fees, Lynchard acknowledged previous votes to suspend collection during the height of the Great Recession in '09, as well as, when the county’s impact fee study became outdated.

Lynchard and Wright agree that impact fees are one way to diversify revenue sources in the county, in conjunction with property taxes and the Local Option Sales Tax.

Credit Photo courtesy of Lane Lynchard

Another issue focused on what the candidates would do to ensure protection of Santa Rosa’s natural resources from unnecessary, adverse environmental impacts such as clear-cutting, drilling, destruction of wetlands, and loss of wildlife habitats as the county continues to grow.

“Most people don’t realize that 39% of the land in Santa Rosa County, over 250,000 acres, is in some form of conservation already,” claimed Lynchard, an attorney whose law firm specializes in estate planning, business and real estate.

He pointed to the fact that only 10 Florida counties have a higher percentage of land in conservation.

“We have worked with the Navy and state to protect some 8,000 acres around Whiting Field, both as a buffer for the base and to prevent development on the property,” Lynchard said about the county commission’s land conservation efforts.

“We are currently rewriting the Land Development Code, and it will include stronger provisions to protect and buffer wetlands, trees and sensitive lands. I’ve worked for years to protect our bays, the Sound, and the rivers and bays in Santa Rosa County, and I’ll continue to do so.”

“This is another issue where there’s a clear difference between myself and my opponent,” said Wright, beginning his comments on environmental protection.

Wright previously served on the Santa Rosa County Planning and Zoning Board. He noted the on-going call by local groups, such as Save Our Sound Side, for changes to the Land Development Code and better enforcement.

Credit Photo courtesy of Colten Wright

“We need to work to make sure that we have responsible development in a way that avoids clear-cutting. We need to make sure that we’re preventing erosion and preventing damage to our waterways,” Wright declared. “And, one of the big issues for our peninsula is to make sure we get off of septic systems and stop releasing treated effluent into our bay, our river and Santa Rosa Sound.”

On the campaign trail, both candidates have said that their top priorities for Santa Rosa County include public safety, infrastructure, and economic development.

At the Santa Rosa County Debate held last month in Navarre, they were asked about their plans for attracting new business and making it easier for small businesses to operate in the county.

As the owner of a tool rental, retail and service company, Wright was eager to offer a response.

“In addition to all just the little procedural issues, we need to make sure we create an environment that we welcome people with ‘open arms,’” he said.

“When somebody walks into the county offices, we need to realize that we’re there to help them.”

Additionally, Wright called for boosting the workforce by establishing a vocational technical school in the south end of the county.

For his part, Lynchard proudly touted his role in overhauling economic development in the county, the growth in manufacturing and technology jobs and the recent addition of the aviation firm Leonardo Helicopters.

“Specifically, with regard to small business, as soon as the shutdown occurred, I called our economic development director and contacted our county administrator and asked them to re-task our economic development department, support small businesses,” said Lynchard. “Within a week, they had Santa Rosa Ready up and running as a gateway of information for all small businesses in Santa Rosa County to access the grants and programs that were available.”

Republicans Lane Lynchard and Colten Wright are candidates for Santa Rosa County Commission District 5.

Lynchard, a three-term incumbent, has more experience. Wright, who’s seeking his first elected office, has a slight fundraising edge, almost $51,000 to nearly $37,000 for Lynchard.

This is a Universal race, open to all Santa Rosa voters. It will be decided in the Aug. 18 primary.

For more information about the candidates and their platform, visit Vote411.org.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.