Air Force: opposes reopening Navarre Pass; Nelson wants more restrictions in Fee Simple bill

The U.S. Air Forces has notified U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) in writing that it has a big problem with any reopening of the Navarre Pass in Santa Rosa County.

“Reopening Navarre Pass in a way that goes through the Santa Rosa Island Controlled Firing Area would interfere with current and future Air Force and DOD missions,” wrote Gen. David Goldfein, the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. “Consequently, the Air Force opposes reopening the pass.”

Gen. Golden said the Air Force was concerned that an increase in boat and civilian traffic into the area would hinder the performance of hazardous military operations on Santa Rosa Island.

He wrote, “The Eglin Santa Rosa Island Test Areas are strategically important for both military test and training needs and must be maintained for the DoD mission.”

The letter comes at a time when Sen. Nelson is debating whether to support a bill passed by the House that would give fee simple titles to those leaseholders with 99-year leases on Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach.

In press release today, Nelson said the companion legislation that he sponsored earlier this year with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) doesn’t go far enough to prevent future cutting of the pass, which was opened only a few months before Hurricane Betsy closed it in 1965.

He said while Escambia County has agreed to keep the current conservation areas in place, the current legislation, as written, doesn’t go far enough to prevent Santa Rosa County from developing the conservation areas or reopening the pass.

“The Air Force has made it clear that reopening Navarre Pass would interfere with its testing and training missions,” Nelson said. “The legislation filed earlier this year doesn’t go far enough to prevent future cutting of the pass and needs to be changed in order to protect our national security interests.”

A copy of the Air Force’s Sept. 27 letter to Nelson is available here.