Panhandle Businesses Say Go Slow on Military Flight Path

The Walton County Chamber of Commerce has asked commissioners to table a resolution supporting the Northwest Florida Greenway until a study can be done on the long-range economic impact.

"By no means are we saying it isn't a worthwhile project," chamber executive director Pamela Tedesco said Thursday. "We just think a little more homework needs to be done."

The Northwest Florida Daily News reports Eglin Air Force Base, which sprawls across 724 square miles in three counties including Walton, has proposed the state-federal plan to purchase some lands and obtain conservation easements, paying owners not to develop property, on others.

The greenway, also supported by environmentalists and Gov. Jeb Bush, would cover 1,000 square miles about 10 miles wide and extending for 100 miles east of Eglin. It would keep lands free of development so training and weapons testing flights, mainly from Eglin and Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, could continue.

Eglin is the nation's largest air base, but officials there say the flight path is needed for fast planes and long-range weapons.

Business leaders are worried about losing acreage from tax rolls in the short term and future economic development.

Commissioner Larry Jones, the board's chairman, said he will listen to both sides before voting but added that commissioners have a minor role in the project.

Jim Breitenfeld, defense support initiative task force manager for the Economic Development Council in neighboring Okaloosa County, expressed support for the greenway.

"That land is going to be preserved, and there are ways to balance the economic impact," Breitenfeld said. "The people who own the property actually are exercising their property rights by putting it into conservation easements."


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