State May Buy Environmental Land To Aid Panhandle Bases

An advisory panel this week recommended that the state add the massive 101,461-acre Bear Creek area in Calhoun, Gulf and Bay Counties and 5,043 acres around Whiting Field Naval Air Station to the Florida Forever program's B list.

The B list projects qualify for 50 percent state funding. The rest would have to come from other sources.

The Bear Creek property covers 163 square miles, or 16 percent, of the Northwest Florida Greenway, a joint state-military project to preserve 1,000 square miles of mostly wooded property partly through outright purchases but mostly by paying owners not to develop their land.

It would ensure military aircraft can continue flying over the area on training and weapons testing missions without interfering with activities on the ground.

The greenway extends east from Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach and then curves south around Tyndall Air Force Base at Panama City until it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. The Bear Creek property is in the eastern part of the greenway.

The Whiting Field project would prevent land around the base from being developed and interfering with its flight training mission near Milton northeast of Pensacola.

The state Acquisition and Restoration Council's recommendations came a day after the Navy presented a $500,000 check to Escambia County commissioners to help purchase an easement that will prevent development from encroaching on Pensacola Naval Air Station.

"This is the first time anywhere in the country that this has been done," said Escambia Commissioner Bill Dickson. "We are paving a new path with the Navy and opening doors for other counties."

Such steps are seen as crucial to protecting Florida's military installations as another round of base closures and realignments approaches next year.

From: The Miami Herald