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Author: Staff Reporters

Milton should unite to provide best Caroline Street design possible

It should have ended when the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization repeatedly voted to make FDOT’s plan for Milton a priority.

It should have ended when, despite the best efforts of former Councilman Vernon Compton and Economic Development Director Ed Spears, the TPO again reaffirmed the project’s priority last year.

It should have been over when the council’s plan to spend $100,000 from reserves to study alternatives to the state’s preferred route failed to produce a responsive bidder.

FDOT is going to widen Caroline Street – U.S. 90 – between Stewart Street and Ward Basin Road.

The Legislature approved $2.75 million last year for the project’s design phase; FDOT expects to finalize a contract with Hanson Professional Services Inc. by February. Design will begin as soon as the contract is signed.

Like it or not, the debate is over. Truthfully, it only ever existed in Milton.

The stretch of U.S. 90 through downtown Milton is a small part of a much larger project to improve traffic flow between Scenic Highway in Pensacola and State Road 87 South east of Milton. The Florida-Alabama TPO is comprised of all five Escambia County commissioners, all five Santa Rosa County commissioners, five members of the Pensacola City Council and one representative each from the Gulf Breeze, Milton, and Orange Beach, Ala., city councils and the Baldwin County, Ala., commission.

Milton has one of 19 votes on the body tasked with setting FDOT’s project priorities. One. If the city had presented viable arguments and alternatives before or during the PD&E, it might have expected some support from the TPO. Absent that, no jurisdiction other than the city of Milton has any interest in delaying the project – which will delay how soon other jurisdictions can expect to see benefits from widening U.S. 90.

Are we suggesting that widening Caroline Street through historic downtown Milton is the perfect or preferred solution? No. But the question was posed well before the TPO and FDOT got involved, and nobody came up with an alternative that met FDOT’s standard.

Whether to oppose or cooperate with the state’s plan has polarized city politics for several election cycles, and early indications are that division will continue.

Mayor Heather Lindsay asked the eight-member council – with four newly elected members – to consider a draft resolution pledging to support FDOT’s project and asking the department to honor the city’s input while designing the project. Veteran councilmembers balked at any suggestion the city approved the downtown route and asked Lindsay and staff to rewrite the draft.

The proposed resolution was not included on the council’s Jan. 3 executive committee agenda, although it may have been discussed given the mayor’s desire to have a resolution in place before FDOT approves a design contract.

It seems some councilmembers are posturing to please constituents who live or own property in downtown Milton; that’s understandable from a political perspective but serves no practical purpose.

The time for shaking fists at the sky is over; now it’s time for anyone who cares about Milton to begin building constructive relationships with decisionmakers to ensure the eventual design is the best possible for the city.

Buffalo Rock expanding into Santa Rosa County

The project code-named “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” is expected to bring 350-400 new jobs to the area – 150-200 which will be created here, and 200 that will be relocated here from other areas.

Buffalo Rock is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama where 85% of its products are manufactured. The company sells more than a billion containers of product each year, and US veterans make up 10% of its workforce.

“This is a very exciting time for our team, and a testament to our longstanding commitment to the region,” said Buffalo Rock Regional Vice President – Gulf Region John Isbell. “The retail landscape is growing, and this investment will position us to better meet demand. Additionally, our employee-partners will experience a first-class workplace with modern amenities. We recognize their positive experience is vital in best serving our customers, and the environment in which they work plays a significant role.” 

“The purpose of this project is to better serve our customers, employee-partners and consumers in the Gulf Region. It’s an integral part of our strategic growth plan, which will allow for efficiencies in logistics and operations” said Buffalo Rock Senior Vice President – Chief Business Operations Officer Wayne Wisdom. “We are working toward being in the new facility in the beginning of 2025 and look forward to the benefits this expansion will offer our customers.”  

“I’m excited to see that Buffalo Rock is making such a big investment in Santa Rosa County,” said Colten Wright, chairman of the Santa Rosa County Commission, who leads the board’s economic development efforts. “They will be the anchor and flagship company of our I-10 Industrial Park. Buffalo Rock bringing nearly 400 employees at wages higher than our area average, means they believe in Santa Rosa County and understand all that we have to offer. They will likely be the first of many companies flocking to our area.”

According to SREDO Director Shannon Ogletree, the project’s groundbreaking is expected in May of 2023.

“This is a big win for Santa Rosa County that demonstrates the value of our commitment to having shovel-ready sites available,” Ogletree said. “The industrial park was intentionally sited less than a mile from its namesake interstate highway, with plenty of room and easy access to everywhere. That was a tremendous selling point for Buffalo Rock.”

Ogletree added that, with the Buffalo Rock purchase, only six acres of property remain available at the Northwest Florida Industrial Park @I-10.

Semifinalists announced for Santa Rosa County Teacher of the Year

The SREF Teacher of the Year Selection Committee, which consists of administrators, business and community leaders, parents, and previous Santa Rosa Teachers of the Year, will observe the semifinalists in their classrooms and conduct interviews before narrowing the field to three finalists. 

The Santa Rosa Teacher of the Year will be announced on Wednesday, January 25, 2023.  Nominees will be recognized at Santa Rosa’s Golden Apple Awards celebrating all Santa Rosa educators on Friday, May 5, 2023, at The Saenger Theater. For sponsorship information visit www.santarosaeducationfoundation.org.  

2023: We’re going to disagree; let’s do it calmly this year

Unfortunately, passion often overwhelms order to flirt with chaos.

Passion too often ran rampant at city council and county commission meetings in 2022. Too often, elected officials, staff and residents let their emotions override their better natures.

Not that passion, by itself, is bad; it’s expected and commendable. People should be passionate about issues affecting their lives and the lives of their children.

And the issues about which residents and government officials were passionate last year were – and are – important: the placement of a wastewater treatment plant that will serve Milton, East Milton and the rapidly growing industrial parks for half a century; placement and design of a highway that will change traffic flow and the character Milton’s historic downtown; the changing demographics and population density in the county’s mostly rural midsection; protecting not only the region’s water quality, but it’s availability.

All of these issues, and others, created political and social friction in Milton and Santa Rosa County that, frankly, is unavoidable. Inevitably, different residents, even different government entities, will have different interests; naturally, those interests will affect their priorities when considering the political questions of the day.

Which brings us back to our wish for 2023: Civility. None of the matters listed above have been settled; they all can be expected to come before the city council or county commission (or both) in the months ahead. Too often, folks on different sides of each question failed to listen to one another’s concerns and questions and reasons for their position. Too often, those folks spent more time demonizing their opponents, attacking their character, motivations and associations than listening and considering and asking reasonable questions.

We saw residents distribute the criminal record of a city official to attack his credibility, accuse him of lying with the barest hint of evidence, and call for his resignation or dismissal because his job requires him to build a wastewater treatment plant that, to date, appropriate authorities have funded and permitted. The residents have legitimate concerns, but stunts like that diminish their credibility.

Several times throughout the year the Milton City Council had to stop proceedings because one or more councilmembers disrupted meetings with outbursts and rants often spouting offensive personal remarks at one or more of their colleagues on the board – which, of course, usually prompted an equally disruptive and angry rebuttal.

We saw residents accuse county commissioners of conflict of interest, of neglecting their duties, of ignoring constituents…some residents regularly used rumor and innuendo to attack commissioners’ characters.

None of that is productive and has to stop. It’s not just Milton and Santa Rosa County. Over the past several decades, civil discourse has crumbled under the weight of an unnecessary and destructive culture war that both helped create and is perpetuated by hyper-partisan national politics. People on the front lines of this culture war consider words like “compromise” and “moderate” to be derogatory, evidence of weakness of character.

On the contrary, we believe those words indicate strength. To objectively consider an opposing opinion and find areas with which one agrees or might accept in exchange for some accommodations to one’s own position shows a maturity that can build mutual trust and cooperation.

The issues we know will face our local governments in 2023 are important and controversial; we don’t expect unanimity of opinion. But we fervently hope that we all can discuss these and other matters with patience, calm and respect.

Happy New Year!

Santa Rosa Medical Center welcomes first baby

SRMC presented Katherine and David with a wagon of items donated by the hospital, hospital staff and area businesses. Items ranged from gift certificates to items for mom and baby.

Businesses that donated include All Squared Away Lawn Care, The Berry Basics Monogram Shop, Blackwater Bistro, Bravo Printing and Promotions, Hartman Photography, Lifeguard Ambulance, Más Que Dulces, Reeder Financial Group, Rick Mohammed, D.O. – Bariatric Weight Loss Surgeon, Santa Rosa Medical Group, Satterfield Concrete, WEAR, Santa Rosa Medical Center Auxiliary and Volunteers, Santa Rosa Medical Center Labor and Delivery Staff.

According to a press release from SRMC, the Baby Suite is a labor and delivery unit offering compassionate, quality health care for expectant mothers. The facility has five private labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum suites (LDRPs) and experienced nursing staff to care for mom and baby while providing maternity patients with individualized birth experiences.

The unit now has OB navigators available to expectant moms at no cost, walking them step-by-step through the phases of pregnancy and beyond. And lactation services continue to be offered to moms looking for additional support on their breastfeeding journey.

SRMC’s team of professionals provides support, education and security while giving every mom the personal attention she needs and deserves during and after pregnancy.

For more information on SRMC’s maternity services, go to srmcfl.com/maternity-care-services.

County to hold open house event to review new FCC broadband map

The county and FCC say residents should submit challenges if they notice any inaccuracies such as location or available internet service providers listed for their location.

Accurate information is important because the federal government will use the map to determine how much funding each county will receive for broadband expansion opportunities.

Staff will be available to answer questions, go over the broadband map and demonstrate how to submit a challenge.

To learn more about the new FCC broadband map and how to submit a challenge, visit www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData/consumers.

Farm Credit of Northwest Florida offering scholarship for agriculture

Farm Credit of Northwest Florida said in a press release if you’re planning to study a field in production agriculture, ag education, ag economics, agri-business or another specific field related to agriculture, you are eligible to apply. 

The scholarship will be awarded to an individual based on their involvement in agriculture, their rural community, academics, leadership qualities and their passion for being a voice for agriculture.

Applications for the scholarship are due no later than 5 p.m. Feb. 10. To receive a copy of the application and to learn more about the guidelines and eligibility, visit www.GoRural.net.

Farm Credit of Northwest Florida is a member owned financial cooperative based in Marianna. The cooperative serves 18 counties in the Florida Panhandle.

Gas prices could face roller coaster ride

The Boston-based GasBuddy, in an annual outlook released Wednesday, predicted that pump prices will peak at an average of $4.25 to $4.65 a gallon in Miami, $4.15 to $4.55 in Orlando and $4.10 to $4.45 in Tampa.

The peaks, barring unexpected changes, likely would happen in the summer, followed by “normal seasonal fluctuations” with prices falling after Labor Day. GasBuddy forecast the national average will be back down to about $3.17 before the start of 2024.

The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded Thursday in Florida was $3.12, while the national average was $3.16, according to the AAA auto club.

Average prices hit $5 nationally and $4.89 in Florida in June before steadily declining through much of the rest of the year. Prices have started to rise this week after dipping below an average of $3 in Florida.

Patrick De Haan, GasBuddy head of petroleum analysis, said in the report it is “highly improbable” for a repeat of 2022, but “storm clouds” remain.

“2023 is not going to be a cakewalk for motorists. It could be expensive,” De Haan said. “The national average could breach $4 a gallon as early as May — and that’s something that could last through much of the summer driving season.”

In the forecast, gas prices nationally could fall under $3 a gallon in February, climb to $3.99 by June, remain over $3.80 during the summer and drop as the year comes to an end.

GasBuddy’s forecast doesn’t assume “a severe recession,” but that “some level of economic reset will limit oil demand.” It cited uncertainty from China easing COVID-19 mandates, OPEC trying to balance oil markets by cutting oil production and Russia’s continuing war in Ukraine.

“The East Coast remains highly susceptible to Russia’s war on Ukraine, as European countries seek out supplies of oil and refined products from elsewhere, putting upward pressure on prices on the East Coast,” the report said.

Other “unscheduled obstacles” could include pipeline shutdowns and weather issues, such as hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

For the year, the national average is expected to be $3.49 a gallon, down from a $3.96 average in 2022.
At that rate, the average American household is expected to spend $2,471 on gas in 2023, down from $2,748 in 2022.

GasBuddy, which acknowledges its forecast isn’t gospel, predicted the national average would be $3.99 this year, its lowest margin of error since first making an annual forecast in 2012.

The company said its “forecast has been above the actual outcome eight of 10 years, with just two years, 2018 and 2021, in which the forecast was lower than the actual outcome.”

GasBuddy noted prices are subject to seasonal increases and decreases tied to refinery maintenance in the spring and fall and the Clean Air Act, which has been slowly eliminating some pollutants from fuels.

Spring maintenance comes as refineries deplete their inventory of winter-blend gasoline for a more-expensive summer blend. Over the past decade, average price increases of 35 cents to 85 cents have been attributed to the change.

Florida’s average unleaded price sat just below $3 a gallon for most of the Christmas weekend. The West Palm Beach area had the highest average price Thursday at $3.29 a gallon, while the Panama City area had the lowest average at $2.92.

— Story by News Service of Florida

One person arrested after fatal shooting

Paramedics pronounced the victim dead soon after.

A press release issued by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office stated that Chloe Colleen Davis, 32, had been arrested on charges of first degree felony homicide and second degree felony weapons offense. However, according to jail records, her last name appears to be Davidson.

She is current being held in the jail. The investigation is ongoing.

Toll Relief Program begins Jan. 1

“I promised Floridians that I would find additional ways to provide toll relief for Florida families,” DeSantis said. “With this legislation, we are keeping that promise to help hardworking families keep more money in their pockets. I applaud the Florida Legislature for prioritizing this during the special session.”

Under the Toll Relief Program, drivers who use toll transponders, such as SunPass or other Florida-based transponders, and have 35 or more qualifying toll transactions per month will receive a 50 percent credit to their account. This program is expected to benefit approximately 1.2 million drivers and will save the average commuter nearly $400 in the 2023 calendar year.

Northwest Florida tolls that are included in this program include the Garcon Point Bridge, Bob Sikes Bridge, Mid-Baby Bridge and Spence Parkway.

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez called the bill “an essential move forward in giving commuters much-needed relief.” According to Nuñez, the program will provide impactful cost savings to Floridians, especially families.

“Florida workers and commuters fuel our economy,” state Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera said. “I appreciate the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Nuñez, and Speaker Renner for fighting to establish a 12-month toll relief program that will keep money in the pockets of hardworking Floridians.”

The 2023 Toll Relief Program builds upon the success of the SunPass Savings Program debuted by DeSantis in August, which was expected to provide almost $40 million in savings to those who use Florida’s Turnpike System and FDOT-owned toll facilities. The SunPass Savings Program began on Sept.  1, 2022, and was approved for six months, but will now sunset on Dec. 31, 2022, as the Toll Relief Program begins.

Since its introduction, the SunPass Savings Program has saved an average of 371,000 commuters more than $13.3 million.

“FDOT is thrilled to offer the Toll Relief Program to help Floridians with the challenges of rising costs of life,” Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared W. Perdue, P.E., said. “Customers are at the center of all we do at FDOT, and this program will truly make an immediate impact on the everyday lives of our customers.”



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