October 31, 2014

Environment: River Keepers- Northwest- May 2003

Joan Hughes | 5/1/2003
Apalachicola Bay and River cuts 109 miles through six counties in northwest Florida. It is one of the most pristine ecological systems in the nation and the "spawning ground" for a vital seafood industry. It's also threatened -- by waste treatment discharge, dredging, water withdrawals and development.

David McLain, a retired Army colonel and environmental consultant, is at the forefront of protecting the system. For about two years now, he has been commanding the nonprofit Apalachicola Bay and River Keeper Inc. (ABARK).

ABARK's focus has been expanded during McLain's tenure from the bay and its immediate tributaries in Franklin County to areas far upstream. "Because I'm 28 years a soldier, I still think in terms of threats and how do you counter them," he says.

Demand for water generated by growth in Atlanta and other upstream regions has been one of ABARK's primary concerns. "Adequate water flow is a matter of life and death for us," says McLain. "We've got one of the few remaining nurseries for the Gulf seafood industry, the spawning ground for a $1-billion offshore industry."

With the support of the six counties bordering the river, the group won Gov. Jeb Bush's support for making water allocation negotiations with Georgia and Alabama -- which had been closed to the public -- open again and for developing evaluation criteria for any proposed allocation formula.

A more pressing concern now, however, is growth. McLain points out that Franklin County's outdated comprehensive plan would have allowed St. Joe Co. to build a marina complete with a service station at its SummerCamp development. The marina "would have badly impacted aquaculture in that area," says McLain. ABARK helped convince St. Joe executives that the plan would destroy the very setting SummerCamp buyers were investing in. As a result, St. Joe changed its plans.

McLain acknowledges that growth is inevitable. And to help shape its path, his group is co-sponsoring a "visioning process" as Franklin revamps its comp plan. "We've got to position ourselves to attract industry that is environmentally sound," he says. "If we continue to have poor schools, poor medical care, we'll never attract clean, high-tech industry here."

John Blanchard, director of the northwest Florida office of The Nature Conservancy, recognizes ABARK as a key player in the region. "This is where the local advocacy groups like ABARK can do great good, with their local knowledge of planning issues."

For McLain and ABARK, that means continuing "to campaign for good public policy instead of just reacting to bad."

IN THE NEWS

CALLOWAY -- The city has broken ground on a $1.2-million, 80-acre community center complex, the first step in a projected 10-year plan to double its geographic size and make an estimated $32 million in improvements.

CEDAR GROVE -- A debt of $1.2 million, a long-unbalanced budget and financial scandals that led to the convictions of a former mayor and city commissioner will weigh on the minds of Cedar Grove voters as they elect a new mayor this month -- their sixth in two years.

DEFUNIAK SPRINGS -- Local aircraft refurbisher Aero FX Inc. will add 25 jobs as the company expands into four maintenance hangars the city has built as part of the $1.2-million first phase of its airport industrial park development.

ESCAMBIA COUNTY -- Commissioners have approved the $2.9-million sale -- $1 million less than the purchase price -- of one of the two land parcels involved in last year's commission corruption scandals.

GULF BREEZE / MILTON -- Citing unacceptable delays, Allete Inc. of Duluth, Minn., says it will terminate its contract with the Florida Water Services Authority to sell the 500,000-customer Florida Water Services system. The Florida Public Service Commission was granted regulatory review of the transaction.

LIBERTY COUNTY -- The Nature Conservancy purchased almost 300 acres of forest adjacent to the Apalachicola River from Neal Land and Timber Co. for $819,000 as part of its ongoing efforts to protect the Apalachicola River and Bay. The land is slated to become part of Torreya State Park. TNC recently named the Apalachicola River region one of the top six most biologically diverse in the U.S.

NICEVILLE -- Okaloosa-Walton Community College has contracted to provide ResortQuest International (NYSE-RZT), which plans to add 300 jobs in the area, with employee training services through a Quick Response grant from Workforce Florida.

PANAMA CITY -- Halliburton has sold its Wellstream spoolable pipe business, which includes manufacturing plants in the United Kingdom and Panama City, for $136 million to Candover Partners, a European buyout group.

PANHANDLE -- Following Florida State University's lead, Florida A&M University and the University of West Florida have signed a deal with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to make environmental compliance, planning and pollution prevention a top priority.

PENSACOLA -- BellSouth cited its Pensacola customer care call center, one of four Florida centers to survive the company's recent restructuring, as the best in nine states and announced the addition of 20 jobs. The center has grown from 50 to 220 employees in the last year.

Five business plans were selected for presentation to venture capitalists at the University of West Florida Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development's Pensacola Venture Forum, which the center plans to hold quarterly. The forum is the area's first.

PERRY -- Doctor's Memorial Hospital will begin emergency medical care helicopter service this month in this rural area.

QUINCY -- Florida State University's Center for Health Equity has received $3.5 million in federal grants for its new Gadsden County Woman to Woman project, which promotes pre- and post-natal health for the county's African-American population. Gadsden has the highest infant mortality rate in Florida, and African-American babies are four times more likely to die than Hispanic or white babies.

TALLAHASSEE -- After receiving a seven-year contract to provide customer care support for state employees, Cincinnati-based Convergys (NYSE-CVG) has signed a seven-year lease to become the first tenant in St. Joe Co.'s (NYSE-JOE) new SouthWood One Office building.

The National Science Foundation has granted $1.15 million to the Florida State University Department of Computer Science's security information program, providing scholarships for 10 to 15 students who will commit to two years' paid employment at a federal agency upon graduation.

Lured by growth in north Florida, the Staubach Co. of Addison, Texas, an international real estate services firm founded by former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach in 1977, has opened its third Florida office -- a split operation in Tallahassee and Jacksonville.

The state's third Challenger Learning Center, a $10-million, 32,000-sq.-ft. interactive visitor center with an Imax theater and 110-seat planetarium, has opened at downtown's Kleman Plaza.

TAYLOR COUNTY -- Taylor County Utilities will convert the majority of its coastal homes from septic to sewer with $4 million in rural development grants, creating about 120 jobs.

Luxury Home SalesStateSales volume*California$11.02 billionMassachusetts$1.01 billionFlorida$1.00 billionIllinois$804.5 millionNew Jersey$731.1 million*Homes valued at $1 million or more and sold by Coldwell Banker affiliates
FLORIDA TRENDLINE?

Real Estate
THE GOOD LIFE

Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corp. says its affiliates posted $1 billion in luxury home sales in Florida last year, making the state its third-highest producer. Here are the company's top five states and home sales volumes:

Development
RETHINKING TRILLIUM

PENSACOLA -- City planners are back at the drawing board after a proposed auditorium and park on the 27.5-acre downtown waterfront Trillium property was defeated in a mail-in ballot election. The grass-roots organization Citizens Against Trillium ["On the Waterfront," February, FloridaTrend.com] forced the referendum.

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