By ALICIA LEONARD
In today’s economic landscape, the military plays a large supporting role in area economies. Cities and counties woo and vie over military operations and bases, hoping to lure families and a needed income flow to their area.
This past Thursday afternoon, Aug. 23, representatives from the Matrix Design Group, in association with the Haas Center, presented information for the Tri-County Small Area Study (SAS) conducted on behalf of Walton, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties to a small group of citizens, real-estate brokers and civic leaders. The SAS was partially built on the information gleaned in 2009 by the Eglin joint-land use study as well as public input.
Vice President of the Matrix Group Celeste Werner started out by reassuring the group the study had nothing to do with eminent domain or the purchase of property or expanding the base. “Let me start by saying the Air Force is not in the land purchasing business nor are they seeking to expand the base here at Eglin in any way. These studies were done in order to find ways that cities, counties and even residents can help keep the lines of communications open with local government entities and the base.”
Werner went on to explain that with the heated competition for bases and the economic dollars they bring to a community, communications with Eglin and knowing what they needed to continue to do their jobs as well as what residents and business owners needed in the community made the study a good idea and actually brought about recommendations for very small changes in the future that would still have to go though the regular route of the county or city to get approval. “Everything, all building plans and such that are already in process would be grandfathered in if the county decided to go with these recommendations and that is all they are, recommendations. Each area will have to decide whether they want to include them or not in their planning,” Werner added.
Most of the higher level noise issues are already and will be contained over the base in Okaloosa. Most flights that train in Walton or approach the base from Walton are prop or rotary planes, which normally fly slower and make less noise.
A few items that were discussed were the limits on building heights in approach areas, low pressure sodium and downward or cut-off lighting as well as sound guidelines, residential density and real estate disclosures.
Eglin and other local bases bring a lot to the table in northwest Florida, according to the study numbers. The bases are estimated to have a $5.2 billion impact in the economic area and 35 percent of Northwest Florida’s regional output is from defense spending. An estimated 57 percent of Okaloosa’s economy is driven by local bases and up to 15 percent of Walton economics are driven by base and military family spending.
The SAS meetings have been ongoing since April 2011 and are welcoming public input until Sept. 21, 2012. Then, a series of public hearings will be held and it will be up to the appropriate entities as to whether or not they adopt the recommendations. The final draft of recommendations are planned for October 2012.
`”All residents of Walton County are welcome to call, email, or however they want, to contact me with any questions they have,” said Walton liaison for the study Ken Little. “I’ll be happy to talk to them and help them any way I can with the information we have gathered,” he added.
Little can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (850) 609-3014. To see a power point presentation of the study with maps and more information go to www.smallareastudies.com.
Werner addded that the entire study was about input and a continued partnership between the base, government entities and residents, “This is all ensuring that the base as well as residents and local government can continue to work together and Eglin can continue it’s mission with national security as well as continue to hep support the local and regional economy.”