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Author: Ken Garner

Milton to place marker remembering Native American victim of ‘Lumberton Incident’

Jernigan’s Landing, now a beautiful park on the banks of the Blackwater River, once was a port for the settlement called Lumberton. In 1837, it was the scene of a vicious attack on innocent Native Americans.

An angry mob of settlers attacked a small group of Creeks trading for desperately needed supplies during the perilous removal period in the South, when the United States government forced Native Americans living in the Southeast to resettle in Oklahoma and other territories. Instead of taking the “Trail of Tears” westward, some Native Americans came to Florida.

Dan “Sky Horse” Helms, Chief of the Santa Rosa Creek Band, described what happened at Lumberton 185 years ago.

“The townspeople shot one man in the leg as he was trying to flee,” he said. “That man (not knowing what would happen if captured) slit his own throat then offered the knife to his 10-year-old son to do the same. The knife was wrestled away before the son could act. The mob noosed his bleeding father and dragged him down to the river, where they pulled him underneath a log raft until he drowned.”

The city is now honoring the Santa Rosa Creek Band’s request to place a historical marker at the old Lumberton site. The plaque will serve as a memoriam for this story in remembrance of countless Native Americans who shared a similar fate.

“They dreamed and prayed that their descendants would have a better life, and we are that dream. This memoriam represents all the suffering our ancestors endured so that we could be here today,” Helms said.

The unveiling ceremony will feature a traditional Creek Stomp Dance.

“Telling this story is very important because Native Americans came here first and settled this land,” Milton City Manager Randy Jorgenson said. “Whatever we can do to recognize the suffering and contributions of this tribe, we will do very diligently.”

City dedicates pavilion to beloved cemetery manager

Bledsoe, a couple of decades older, moved to Milton from California where, among other things, he had managed a cemetery. He soon volunteered to manage the historic cemetery in his new hometown.

“Sometimes he could be a little opinionated,” Jorgenson said. “Sometimes he could be a little cantankerous if you differed with that opinion. He was strong-willed and strong-minded; he was a Marine all his life, and he’d let you know that.”

A Marine and a patriot, he was known to cherish the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and to carry hundreds of pocket-sized copies in his car to distribute when he heard either document misquoted.

More than their debates, though, Jorgenson remembered Bledsoe’s sense of humor and his commitment to his community.

“He would give of himself and give of his time,” Jorgenson recalled at the dedication ceremony Thursday, Jan. 19. “I don’t know of anyone who more deeply loved what they were volunteering to do, and it usually was not a real fun subject: ‘What do you do?’ ‘I manage a cemetery.’”

Bledsoe died in 2017; he was 87. Bledsoe moved to Milton from Long Beach, California, after his wife died in 2000. He served 12 years as a U.S. Marine, was a postal worker for 30 years, a history teacher and pastor and managed Sunnyside Cemetery in Long Beach. It didn’t take long for former City Manager Brian Watkins to recruit him to manage the Milton Historic Cemetery.

Christie Haarman, who became cemetery manager after Bledsoe’s death, approached Jorgenson with the idea of building a pavilion to honor Bledsoe’s memory. She peeled away paper covering a metal plaque featuring Bledsoe’s photograph and the dates of his birth and death.

Mayor Heather Lindsay, an attorney, was unable to attend the dedication because of a work commitment; Mayor Pro Tem Casey Powell represented the City Council.

“We can give a lot of things in our lives,” he said. “We can give money; we can give our support; we can pray for folks … but the most important thing we can give is our time. Mr. Bledsoe spent his life giving his time for his community, for his country, and for his family, and it’s very fitting that we remember him.”

The Bledsoe Pavilion creates a permanent, central location for graveside services, according to a city media release.

The structure, assembled by city employees from a kit at a cost of about $25,000, will provide shade and weather protection.

FDEP fines Milton $50,000 for sewage spills

City Manager Randy Jorgenson received a draft of the consent order last week in a letter dated Jan. 13; he had until Friday, Jan. 20, to sign the order.

Jorgenson told the Press Gazette on Friday that the city agreed with the department’s findings, adding that fines are an inevitable consequence of providing sewer services.

Randy Jorgenson, Milton City Manager

“It’s not uncommon at all,” he said. “Over a period of two years, we had eight sewage spills and exceeded nitrogen-level limits nine times. When you have hundreds of miles of pipes with hundreds of fittings and valves, it’s inevitable that you will, at times, have problems. It’s just a matter of doing business.”

The city regularly tests contaminant levels in its treated wastewater, or effluent, and reports to FDEP when a test shows levels higher than established standards. Nitrogen levels exceeded allowable weekly average limits (6 milligrams per liter) four times, monthly average limits (4 mg/L) twice, and maximum limits (8 mg/L) three times between December 2021 and March 2022, according to the consent order. The order also notes that the city has taken corrective action.

Hurricane Sally was responsible for the three most serious sewer system overflows, on Sept. 16-17, 2020; storm surge and heavy rainfall caused water from the Blackwater River to rise into the sewer system, causing an estimated 47,875 gallons of biosolids and 30,000 gallons of untreated wastewater to back up through the system. According to the consent order, none of the waste entered the Blackwater River.

Other system overflows – all attributed to heavy rainfall – include the following:

* Oct. 10, 2020 – About 17,000 gallons of untreated wastewater backed up in two areas, near the intersection of Riverwalk Street and Berryhill Road and at Carpenter Park near the intersection of Milton/Dixon and Broad streets. At least some of the spills did enter into the Blackwater River.

* June 19, 2021 – About 1,000 gallons of untreated wastewater backed up at 5755 E. Milton Road but didn’t impact the river.

* May 26, 2022 – About 10,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater spilled out of the clarifier in the city’s wastewater treatment plant at 6903 Municipal Drive but did not impact the river. About 300 gallons of untreated wastewater backed up through a manhole cover at Willing and Broad streets and into the river.

Jorgenson said that, while the city’s goal is to prevent any violations, last year’s Memorial Day spill into the river wouldn’t significantly impact the environment.

“Engineers will tell you the solution to pollution is dilution,” he said. “It was 300 gallons. I have 36,000 gallons of water in my swimming pool. Millions of gallons of water flow under the Blackwater River Bridge every second. It was minor.”

Jorgenson said he had intended to brief the city council about the consent order at its Jan. 19 council of the whole meeting, but that meeting was cancelled because more than three members of the eight-member council could not attend.  Five members must be present for a quorum; the board cannot act without a quorum.

The city could pay its fine by committing to spend at least $75,000 on an FDEP-approved environmental project. In addition to the fine, the city must have an engineer to determine whether the cause of the ongoing problem can be corrected with repairs or new construction at the plant and, if so, the city must complete an FDEP-approved mitigation project.

Jorgenson suggested it’s unlikely an engineer will make some a recommendation.

“We can’t engineer Mother Nature,” he said. “All of these violations were caused by heavy rains river rise. Our plant is so close to the water, whenever the river rises it backs up into our system. Something has to give.” The city hopes to begin construction of a new wastewater treatment plant in East Milton this spring. It will be built further back from the river and well above the river’s surface.

Council meeting cancelled

The eight-member council needs at least five members present for a quorum; without a quorum present, the council cannot take action.

Bethany Anderson, the city’s public information officer, said she didn’t know why councilmembers would be absent, only that more than three had notified the city they couldn’t be present.

Tonight’s meeting was scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 6738 Dixon St. The council will hold its executive committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6.

The council has three monthly meetings: the committee of the whole, executive committee and regular business meetings. The committee of the whole lets councilmembers hear presentations from staff and the public, ask questions, and discuss how to proceed with issues facing the city; state Sunshine Law prohibits elected officials from discussing matters on which they might be required to vote except in meetings open to the public.

At the executive committee meeting, councilmembers further discuss items forwarded from the committee of the whole, hear updates from staff and public input, and decide which items should be forwarded to the regular business meeting for final action.

Gaetz announces nominees for military academies

“This is my favorite duty as a member of congress,” Gaetz told 37 nominees from Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties and their families and friends gathered in the NHS cafeteria/auditorium. “I want to thank you all for being here with me tonight with the best of the best Northwest Florida has to offer.”

Navarre and Niceville had five nominees each, followed by Gulf Breeze with four. In the Press Gazette’s coverage area, Milton and Pace had one nominee each, Nathan Johnson and Connor Schuster, respectively.

Navarre Principal Kasie Windfelder said she had been told Navarre hasn’t has as many as five nominees since 2009.

“We are very proud,” she said.

The Press Gazette will have more information about the nominees online and in our Jan. 26 print edition.

New courthouse opens for business

“I think it’s going to be a lot more efficient,” Clerk of Courts Don Spencer said as he watched security officers screen residents through metal detectors and x-rays at the building’s spacious entryway. “It’s taken several years for us to get this thing up and running, but everything’s going smooth now.”

Court security officers screen visitors to the new Santa Rosa County Courthouse on its first morning of business Tuesday, Jan. 17.

Court officials began asking the county to repair or replace the old courthouse in downtown Milton in the early 2000s. The county commission spent years debating whether to build a new facility, then where to put it, then how to pay for it.

By 2019, commissioners finally agreed to build the $42-million facility on a 19-acre parcel on Avalon Boulevard just south of its intersection with Mulat Road/Commerce Street. After a failed referendum asking residents to approve a special sales tax for the project, the commission decided to use reserve funds and loan money to pay for new facility.

Construction later that year, with a projected completion date of June 2022. In August last year, the county held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completed structure, but contractors needed more time to correct several issues identified in post construction inspections.

“We had to do a few things,” Spencer said, “but it’s good to finally get it up and running.”

Milton center of inline speedskating universe

“The biggest meet in the United States is here,” Dave Weber, owner of Weber’s Skate World and coach of the Emerald Coast Speed Team, told Milton Councilman Jeff Snow in a promotional video released leading up to the event. Snow is a skater and helps organize and manage the event.

Weber got involved with inline speed skating when he was 20, attending a midnight speed practice with about 100 kids in Fort Walton Beach. He’s been racing and coaching ever since and, in 2018, bought and completely renovated the skating rink in Milton and started the local speed skating program. He has produced dozens of national champions across several age groups.

The 2023 Emerald Coast Inline Challenge attracted skaters from across the United States and as far away as India, Snow said, including several world champions.

“Dave’s built this into the biggest meet in the whole country,” Snow said.

Weber hosted the first inline challenge a little more than a decade ago and it has grown each year.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday, skaters raced indoors at Weber’s Skate World, 6056 Stewart St. On Monday, the competition moved outdoors at Milton High School.

The team and high-profile competition are only part of Weber’s dream, though. He wants to Milton to be a “mecca” of the speed-skating world.

Many countries don’t have indoor rinks; they compete on outdoor tracks. Weber currently is building a 200-meter outdoor parabolic track beside his rink; it will be the only one of its kind in the United States and, because it’s sanctioned by International Speed Skating, the sport’s governing body, will be eligible to host international events.

“Hopefully we can have the world championships here one day,” Weber said.

Weber also wants to build the sport’s popularity and structures his program to keep children engaged at all age levels. To reach the highest levels of competition it’s important, he said, to get children started as young as possible.

Early job opens Metzler’s eyes to teaching’s ‘ah-ha!’ moments

“I was recommended by a few of my teachers; I simply loved it!” Metzler told the Press Gazette. “I ended up volunteering for the next three years coaching cheering at (Pace Athletic & Recreation Association).”

Now, Metzler teaches fifth graders math at Pea Ridge Elementary School. Her peers recently picked her to be the school’s Teacher of the Year. Earlier this month, the Santa Rosa Education Foundation selected her to be one of five semifinalists for the countywide award.

“Teaching is a calling for me; I enjoy helping others,” Metzler said. “It makes me feel good to know that I helped someone have an ‘ah-ha!’ moment. It gives me a feeling like no other to know that I helped someone feel good about learning something new and understanding something better.”

Metzler was born in Pensacola; she went to elementary school there and attended middle and high school in Pace. She continued her education at Pensacola Junior College (the future Pensacola Community College) and the University of West Florida. She has taught for 27 years, at Holley-Navarre Middle School between 1996-2003 before transferring to Pea Ridge.

Metzler and her husband, Mike, have a son, Garrett, 28.

While attending college, Metzler worked at the McDonald’s in Milton where her manager, Rodney Hudson, soon noticed her talent for teaching and made her a crew trainer.

“I was often told that I explained things well and made tasks easier for people to understand and follow,” Metzler said, adding that Hudson and her aunt, Betty Flynn, inspired her to pursue a teaching career with their “continued confidence and encouragement.” Several “memorable” teachers – Ms. Parks, Mr. Walther, Mr. Chestnut and Mrs. Butler among them – also helped Metzler decide to become an educator.

Metzler leads the Elite Eagles program at Pea Ridge, a partnership with U.S. Navy Helicopter Training Squadron 18 stationed at Naval Air Station Whiting Field. The program recognizes fifth grade students who exhibit excellence in the areas of academics, leadership and citizenship, she explained.

Despite the challenges she faces, Metzler said the relationships she builds with students and their families are rewarding.

“Year after year, previous students come back to visit and take their time to volunteer in my classroom,” she said. “It is a great chance to see the positive changes as they grow and the impact I can make in a person’s life.”

Metzler enjoys spending time with her family and friends when she’s not working. She likes walking, biking and day trips in the areas around Destin, Pensacola and Fairhope, Alabama

Each year, the Santa Rosa Education Foundation honors the Santa Rosa Teacher of the Year – as well as five semifinalists and the winning teacher from each of the district’s 35 schools – at its annual Golden Apple Awards celebration. The district’s teacher of the year will compete for the Florida Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year award.

Destin businessman remaking SR 87 corridor in East Milton

“It’s not going to be developed (for agricultural uses), so as things develop in that area there’s going to be a need for commercial development, and that’s what they’re preparing themselves for.”
“They” are limited liability corporations affiliated with Destin developer Craig Kruse, and “they” aren’t limiting themselves to commercial investment.

Kruse-related companies Austin Run LLC (118 acres) and Summerset Hills LLC (74 acres) are developing residential subdivisions west of SR 87 that will stretch between Fortune and Hickory Hammock roads.

Late last year, Kruse Group Properties LLC successfully requested the county to rezone 22.6 acres northeast of the intersection of Hickory Hammock Road and SR 87 and reportedly plans to develop a grocery store on the site.

Most recently, Kruse’s It’s All About Us LLC asked the Zoning Board to rezone 41.8 acres on SR 87 – the entire stretch between Hickory Hammock and a convenience store at the southwest corner of Fortune and SR 87 – from AG-RR (agriculture-rural residential) to HCD (highway commercial district) and to change the county’s future land use map designation from AG-RR to COMM (commercial).

The board voted 5-3 to recommend the SRC Commission approve the request, with board members Ed Carson, Chris Grimes and Derrick Sammons voting against Aaron Williams’ motion.

New board member Alan Isaacson said, “Personally, I like it.”
“Any time we can get businesses, or a place where we can generate some type of revenue, the county needs to take advantage of it,” he added.

Carson said he didn’t oppose commercial development of the property, but he wanted to protect Fortune Road residents from commercial traffic. About 155 feet of the northwest tip of the property fronts Fortune Road, and Carson said he didn’t want delivery trucks and service vehicles using Fortune Road to access businesses on the property.

Williams countered that the Fortune Road frontage would be an asset to residents; without access from Fortune, residents would have to go to SR 87, turn right and then turn into the commercial development.

Only one resident addressed the board about the request. Laverne Frye, who lives on Fortune Road, said she didn’t mind plans for commercial development but worries about traffic problems on the small rural road.

The county commission is expected to consider the Zoning Board’s recommendation at its special rezoning meeting Jan. 26.

Celebrating Dr. King’s dream

The parade and a block party on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the afternoon capped a weekend of events coordinated by the Fellowship Churches of Santa Rosa County, including a prayer breakfast Saturday and a commemoration ceremony Sunday evening.



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