CRESTVIEW—Okaloosa County is closer to receiving tens of millions of dollars from a stimulus program known as the Triumph Gulf Coast Trust Fund.
The fund will be a point of deposit for monies from a financial settlement between Gulf of Mexico states and BP following the 2010 oil spill. An estimated $1.5 billion will be paid to eight counties along the Florida Panhandle between now and 2033.
The bill passed the Florida House of Representatives on Monday, the Senate on Tuesday and is expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
A section of the bill requires the state to immediately release $300 million to the fund, before being released to counties for projects. Each county will have to create a project list to submit to the fund for approval.
The list of potential projects is still a work in progress, according to Okaloosa County Commissioner Graham Fountain. However, Fountain and fellow County Commissioner Nathan Boyles are eyeing infrastructure projects in Crestview as possible funding requests.
Fountain’s district includes most of Crestview and areas such as Duke Field and Laurel Hill. Boyles’ district covers southwest portions of Crestview, Holt, Baker and Escambia Farms.
“Certainly, in a general category for me, would be crucial, new highway infrastructure projects like the Crestview [State Road] 85 bypass,” Fountain said.
Boyles also eyed highway improvement near Crestview, as well as other roadway projects that could affect his more rural constituents.
“The development of bypass routes around Crestview and the stabilization of dirt roads that contribute to water quality issues are examples of worthwhile projects in North Okaloosa that I believe will meet funding criteria,” Boyles said, adding he will push for projects that can help the entire county.
Funds from the stimulus must fall into one of these categories for approval:
Property tax reduction
Impact fee payments for new development
Public infrastructure projects
Grants to create or assist disaster response plans
Educational grants for career preparation programs
Skilled adult education program grants
Tourism promotion grants
The call for infrastructure improvements isn’t just made by county officials; members of the Crestview City Council also hope to secure Triumph funds for the city’s roads.
“We have several road projects under consideration right now that are in need of funds,” Councilman J.B. Whitten said. “The key to submitting them is to demonstrate that their completion will enhance economic recovery, diversification and enhancement as defined in the bill.”
“[Improvement] of our main traffic areas throughout our county’s road systems” has also been eyed by Councilman Joe Blocker.
“I believe by directing a fair amount of revenue toward grants for (the) purpose of developing programs and infrastructures, that would promote the opportunities in developing and educating our entire workforce of Okaloosa County,” Blocker said.
Whitten is also looking at grants or other financial assistance for disaster response programs.
“Under consideration could be funds to enhance our ability to respond to natural disasters — again, as defined by this bill,” Whitten said.
Monetary relief could still take months to receive, even if the county is cleared to receive part of the stimulus. Whitten has been through a similar process the last time BP funds were distributed to the area.
“Based on my experience with the initial release of money, we will be just beginning a process that could take a while before we ever see any money,” Whitten said. “Our council will have to work with the mayor, the city clerk and our department heads to come up with the worthiest projects.”
While the funds might take awhile to receive, officials still hope they can bring some of it to the northern end of Okaloosa County.