By CHRIS MANSON
The South Walton Fire District (SWFD) once again tackled a 10-acre parcel the district owns on CR-393. Representatives from Bosso, Dentzau, and Imhof (BDI), Inc., a Pensacola environmental firm, addressed the commissioners during Monday’s monthly board meeting.
BDI conducted a preliminary wetland assessment of the property. A portion of the property was identified as isolated wetlands, which does not fall under the auspices of regulating agencies like the Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers. However, much of the remaining land will require permitting, a process the BDI representatives said could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months.
Chief Rick Talbert said it was not the SWFD’s intent to develop the entire site, but rather to construct a training and storage facility rough one-third of the size of the SWFD headquarters building. Talbert said he envisioned a three-story, multi-use structure that would put firefighters in more “high fidelity” training situations.
BDI suggested that the SWFD come up with a broad phasing plan for the CR-393 parcel and develop an engineering plan. The environmental experts argued that a government entity such as the SWFD would be less likely to run into permitting hurdles than, say, an office complex.
“We will eventually need a training facility,” said board chairman Maurice Gilbert. “This is the most appropriate place to have it.”
BDI would handle the application process, while the SWFD would need to employ a design firm and engineers. BDI estimated that it would cost roughly $18,000 to shepherd the process through.
After some discussion, Talbert agreed to engage an engineering firm to walk the property. Assistant Chief Marc Anderson said he would get a conceptual plan together and bring it to the July board meeting.
Attorney Lorriane Bytell informed the board that a small-scale amendment regarding the SWFD’s CR-395 property passed 4-1 at the last meeting of the Planning Commission. Last Tuesday, she attended the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting for the first public hearing regarding the amendment. Bytell said the BCC would hold a second public hearing and vote on the matter at its June 10 meeting.
Bytell said there seemed to be “a lack of understanding that the SWFD is an independent entity and needs money to operate.”
Talbert summed up the emergency response activity statistics for May, noting that last month the SWFD performed 36 beach rescues in contrast to just two a year ago. “The totals continue to climb,” said Talbert. “The beach rescue program was invaluable over the holiday weekend. There were no fatalities.”
Talbert also said the SWFD had completed hurricane readiness training and is monitoring the district’s fuel consumption as well as developing energy-saving measures. “An energy audit is underway,” he said, noting that rising fuel costs were not anticipated in the current fiscal year’s budget.
Vice-chairman Jack Abbit asked if the SWFD had fuel reserves in the event of an emergency. “We have an agreement with the county for fuel delivery services,” said Talbert. “I feel like we’re in good shape.”
Fiscal Officer Brian Flanagan gave a mid-year budget review and recommended increasing the SWFD’s reserves by $482,000. “We had more cash at the end of the year than we thought,” he said. He also requested that the board increase its equipment expenditures by $25,000. The board approved both items unanimously.
The board agreed to Gilbert’s proposal to display a plaque in the conference room commemorating the late attorney Alan Ramey’s years of service to the SWFD. Gilbert also informed the board that Talbert had been nominated for Florida Fire Chief of the Year, to be awarded July 25.