Feeding Frenzy and the Goldmine

The Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee on Monday heard presentations on both environment and economy.

William O. Cleckley, of the Northwest Florida Water Management District, provided committee members with information about restoring the ecosystem through the acquisition of land. He described a “feeding frenzy,” with applicable parcels being sought out with the expectation that RESTORE dollars or other spill related funds will be directed toward such effort.

Cleckley said that purchasing and managing land can be useful in attempts to improve local watersheds. The NFWMD director stressed the importance of adequate funding for ongoing management of such properties, and also said resources located on the property, such as timber, could be used as an income source to offset the costs.

This presentation also included a set of guidelines for approaching environmental restoration work. Members were advised to follow general criteria such as striving toward recreating the natural ecosystem, doing no further harm and using existing research. Adaptability was also stressed.

“The biggest thing you need to remember is adaptive management, if you try something first and it doesn’t work, try something else,” Cleckley said. “Adaptive management, I can’t say that enough. You have to adapt, adapt, adapt.”

The water management district director said that governmental agencies have a “cookbook” of land management project they would like to see launched. He agreed to get the RESTORE committee a localized list of such projects.

“There’s a whole wealth of projects out there,” Cleckley said.

The committee also heard from Rick Harper, Ph.D., executive director of the University of West Florida’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement. He offered up what he described as “the economist’s view of the RESTORE process.”

When considering how best to spend RESTORE money in an effort to benefit the area, Harper suggested viewing potential projects in a “benefit-cost framework.”

“Which ever projects have the most favorable ratios are the ones you go with,” he said.

Ultimately, Harper listed education and safe streets as two points of focus. He said improving those fronts would lead to new business, economic growth and a chain reaction of results, to include an improved environment.

“If you want to have a high quality community,” he said, “you have to get at things that matter to families.”

Notably, a committee member noted that the education and safety might not be in the body’s purview. The Escambia County Commission has instructed the committee to consider projects in three categories: environmental, economic development and infrastructure.

Also during Monday’s committee meeting, a handful of people requested that members consider recommending projects for funding that improve handicap accessibility on the beach. They contended that improving the accessibility to the beach would also increase tourism-related revenues due to a spike in visits from that community.

Speaking from his wheelchair during public forum, James Hinkle told the committee that improving handicap accessibility would amount to a “gold mine.”

“The resources are already here,” Hinkle said. “All you have to do is make them accessible and your numbers will increase.”

The next RESTORE committee meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m., Aug. 19 at the Ernie Lee Magaha Government Building on Palafox.