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Around the State- Northwest- Feb. 2000

In the News

Apalachicola River -- Negotiators have until the end of April to resolve complaints centering on water rights to the river that runs between Alabama and Georgia and flows through Florida into the Gulf of Mexico. The three states rely on the river for drinking water. Florida and Alabama complain that Georgia takes more than its fair share. The states agreed in December to extend a negotiations deadline, after which one or more of the states may go to federal court. The river and its namesake bay also provide about 90% of oysters consumed statewide and about 10% consumed nationally, says Doug Barr of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

Century-- A Japanese firm that makes the world's only biodegradable balloons may set up a Florida manufacturing facility in this small town (pop. 2,000), bringing about 100 jobs. Pensacola, Tallahassee and Bay Minette, Ala., also are in the running. Sky Artech's biggest customer is Disney World, according to company President Wes Bethea, who has an office in Orlando. Bethea says 10% of the workforce would come from Japan. Local jobs would include engineering, sales, shipping and computer design. The balloons, for which Sky Artech holds the patent, are designed to be filled with helium and released during parades and events. They explode upon reaching the Jet Stream and disintegrate on contact with water.

Chipley -- The Federal Communications Commission may not let AT&T hang up its current toll-free directory service, despite company plans to close directory offices here and in Panama City. AT&T planned to replace the service with its Internet directory, but the FCC says numerous telephone customers do not have access to the Internet.

Escambia County-- The Escambia County Commission approved $1.7 million for more firefighters and equipment. County officials will create 36 full-time positions at starting salaries of $21,000. Currently, most fire departments in Escambia are staffed by volunteers who work day jobs or have other responsibilities.

Lynn Haven -- Washer and dryer manufacturer IPSO-USA Inc. moved into the Lynn Haven Commerce Park, where its $10-million plant will initially employ 60 people. That number is expected to grow to 100 employees and an annual payroll of $5.5 million.

Panhandle -- Gulf Power Co.'s $32-million construction program now under way is unlike any the utility has seen in 25 years. By the close of 2001, the company plans to erect 176 miles of new poles, towers and power lines.

Walton County -- The Walton County Commission has approved a master plan for the St. Joe Company's WaterColor project. Construction of the first phase of the planned 499-acre residential community began in September. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review of habitat conservation plans for a 102-acre parcel to the south of County Road 30A is expected to be complete in March.

Gambling Junkets: New Restrictions

The FantaSea, a 135-foot casino gambling ship, had to leave its longtime berth at Panama City Marina in December because a new state order now prohibits ships offering "cruises to nowhere" from docking over state-owned land. Since 1997, Panama City had made about $50,000 a year from FantaSea slip fees, fuel costs and a 50-cent charge per passenger. The order from Gov. Jeb Bush could affect some 17 gambling ships across the state.

Now FantaSea boards passengers from a slip at privately owned Sun Harbor Marina near the Hathaway Bridge, where U.S. 98 links Panama City and Panama City Beach. Tourists driving over the bridge can see the ship, which could generate more business than when FantaSea docked several miles from the tourist corridor. Sun Harbor Marina bought the submerged-land lease and the title to the marina on auction last summer from Regions Bank, which foreclosed on the previous owners. The current lease, issued in 1992 and due to sunset in 2017, allows gambling ships. But Florida's Department of Environmental Protection has warned that the state could alter the gambling provision when it issues an updated lease with the names of the new lease holders.