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DeSantis grants $3.2 million to Okaloosa

“I’m really happy to be here today to be able to announce that the state of Florida, through the Governor’s Job Growth Grant Fund, is going to be providing $3.2 million to Okaloosa County,” DeSantis said, “that will support the installation of road, rail, water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.” The money is specifically for businesses at the 10,500-acre Shoal River Ranch, located off Highway 90.

DeSantis prefaced his announcement with a discussion of the jobs needed in Florida. “One of the reasons we’re here today is because my view is we want to expand our industrial base in the state of Florida,” he said. DeSantis is unhappy with the amount of products in our country coming from places like China, so the focus is now on workforce education. While universities are a pathway for some, others can go directly into the workforce without going into debt, getting jobs such as truck driving, welding, and HVAC.

“You also need the infrastructure,” DeSantis said, adding that on to the workforce education.

Dane Eagle, the Secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, was also at the conference. “[Major companies] want to come to Florida, but what they need is land,” Eagle said. “So, now we can point to Okaloosa County.”

DeSantis views this industrial site to be something the county and community can count on, as opposed to other industries, such as technology, that have the ability to pick up and move their sites.

“We have a governor that is not only leading the charge, really nationwide, but to us here at home, is a difference maker every day of our lives,” Okaloosa County Commissioner Mel Ponder said. The expectations for what to come in the county are high. “There’s nothing else this size with this much access to a major interstate in the state of Florida,” he continued.

In addition to his announcement, Governor DeSantis gave an update on the state of Florida as a whole. The state is expected to end the fiscal year, which ends in June, with a surplus of over $20 billion. More people are employed than were before COVID-19, and school enrollment has increased over the past two years.

“We govern this state on the basis of what’s in the best interest of the people of this state, not what some California-based corporation thinks,” DeSantis said.

Crestview Police Department retires K-9 Sonic

Officer Jay Peak and Sonic have been together the last four years. Sonic has been a member of the Crestview Police Department for seven years. He will remain in the Peak home in his retirement.
Peak said Sonic’s record of service is one to be proud of.

“With Sonic’s help, he has actually been integral with hundreds of felony arrest, not only with the Crestview Police Department, but with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office,” Peak said. “We provided one of the main K-9 coverages for the north end of the county especially when the sheriff’s department retired the majority of their dogs due to old age and whatnot. We were actually one of the only K-9 units in the north end of the county on our shift.

“He’s a narcotics detector dog and we would get called out by the sheriff’s office, the Highway Patrol, our own agency to do walks around vehicles hoping to find narcotics and contraband.”

Crestview Chief of Police Stephen McCosker said it’s important to reward service animals for their duty by offering them the best retirement possible.

“We are really excited for Sonic and the Peaks,” McCosker said. “One of the things I think that’s really important is as these service animals reach the end of their working life, which is nowhere near the end of their actual physical life that we have them paired with proper homes so they can have the best retirement possible just as we want our officers to have the best retirement possible.”

While Sonic is friendly in a social setting such as his retirement party, the Chief said that he is a full service dog meaning he’s trained to attack when called upon and even to give his life for his human partner.

Those are just some of the reasons that Sonic and the other service dogs are retired with years left to just be dogs and family pets

Peak said that Sonic has been a great partner in the way the dog has approached the job.

“It’s mostly his demeanor, especially when we are getting ready in the morning,” Peak said. “He knows when it’s time go to work. When my alarm goes off. he’s up beside my bed and licking me in the ear.
“I get up and I get ready and he goes to work and gets his vest on. It’s his whole attitude, I couldn’t ask for a better partner.”

Old Spanish Trail Rodeo draws packed house

A packed house was on hand Friday night and a bigger crowd was expected on Saturday.

“We were really excited to see so much enthusiasm from our crowd and to see so many people,” Baker Area Recreation Association president Lisa Winfield said. “They really enjoy this rodeo and support it.”

For a few hours even city folk were able take a journey to a place almost every little boy and girl dreams of at one time or another as they ride their trusty horse into the sunset. 

Lane Lambert does his best to stay on the bull.

Yes, there were all the traditional rodeo events from bull riding to steer wrestling, breakaway roping, barrel racing and more. And for those wanting to get dirty themselves, there was a chicken chase for the smallest of children, a baby pig chase for the older children and a larger pig chase for adults. Not to mention a frisbee contest for those too old to chase chickens or baby pigs, but not old enough to run with the adults.

The smooth vocal tones of announcer Clint Allemand kept the crowd informed about all that was happening on the arena floor. And he was up close and personal with the riders as he himself announced while riding a horse.

Trick rider Dusty Dickerson entertained the crowd with her horsemanship skills. Clown Rudy Burns kept the audience laughing. And when Army Sergeant First Class Kyle Stipp was honored as the rodeo’s Wounded Warrior the crowd came to its collective feet in honor of an American hero.

Friday’s event ran about as smoothly as Winfield could have hoped and even as the first night of the rodeo was ending, she was already thinking ahead to next year.

“There wasn’t anything unexpected for us,” she said. “You just have to work through some of the challenges. Any time you have an event this large, with this many moving components, there’s always going to be a hiccup, you just work through it.

“We are already asking for input, feedback and suggestions from our sponsors, or patrons and our guest to see what we can do to make this better next year.”

Okaloosa County Offers $1.5 Million to Non-Profits Through ARPA Funding

“Many Okaloosa County non-profit organizations have continued to serve our community, despite the long-lasting challenges introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners Chairman, Mel Ponder. “We are pleased to offer some relief.”

In addition to accepting applications for consideration of ARPA funding, the County has also opened its annual funding opportunity to non-profit organizations who assist the county in carrying out its vision of providing economic opportunity and excellence in critical services to enhance the quality of life for all residents.

Non-profit organizations interested in applying for either funding opportunity may visit the County’s website to learn more about eligibility and to download an application. Applications will be accepted through May 2, 2022 at 5 p.m. Eligible applicants are encouraged to participate in a webinar scheduled for Thurs., Mar. 31, 2022 at 9 a.m. For more information on ARPA, the County’s application process or to register for the upcoming webinar, visit myokaloosa.com/nonprofitfunding.

For more information, contact April Sarver at (850) 585-7059 or at asarver@myokaloosa.com.

School crossing guard saves Crestview student’s life

When asked, Holliday calmly stated, “The traffic had been stopped and the truck was not in line of sight when we gave the student the go ahead to cross. Everything happened so fast, but I can honestly say that in that split second my mind was focused on her without even realizing. I have a daughter her age and all I could think about was what would I want someone to do to protect my child.”

Watch the video below.

Video submitted by City of Crestview

The crossing guard program is a long-standing entity in the community. In 2016, a program that was normally ran by certified police officers, changed to civilians under the leadership and direction of the Police Department, where it saw a revamp in training. Holliday has been a part of the unit for a month now and it’s the training and support from the Police Department, that she has received, that continue to instill the importance of always staying alert.

The Crestview Police Department is seeking the driver and vehicle involved in this incident and anyone with information should call the Crestview Police Department at 850-682-2055.

Crestview man nabbed in warrant for murder

Morris had an active warrant by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in connection with the shooting death of 44-year-old Nancey Schreiner.

Schreiner was a bystander who suffered a fatal wound to the chest during a shoot-out near the intersection of Marler Street and Shirley Drive, Feb. 9. OCSO Investigators recovered 73 shell casings from the scene.

The OCSO continues to seek co-defendant 19-year old Jacob Gabany of Crestview.

Jacob Gabany

A third co-defendant, 23-year-old Travon’te Mclaughlin of Crestview, is already in custody on charges of murder while engaged in a felony defense and firing a missile into an occupied residence.

Anyone with information on Gabany’s location is asked to contact the OCSO at 850-651-7400 or Emerald Coast Crime Stoppers at 850.863.TIPS, emeraldcoastcrimestoppers.com, or through the P3 Tips mobile application.

Crestview band drops four new singles

A local band out of Crestview is releasing four new singles in the next month, including one called “Real Country,” about some of the original country artists like Johnny Cash.

Below Alabama was formed by four local men just over a year ago and had gigs for all but a few weekends in 2021. One place they don’t get to play very often? Crestview, where Leonard “Bubba” Ellis, who does vocals and guitar, said there are almost no live music opportunities.

Because of that, the “hometown” for the band is Florala, where they play at The Depot several times a year, drawing about 300 fans, many of whom follow them there from the Panhandle.

Leonard “Bubba” Ellis, who once played football at Baker School, sings vocals in “Below Alabama,” a band that plays gigs from southern Alabama down to the water’s edge in south Okaloosa County. Contributed photo

Earlier this month, they played at the Cancer Freeze – an annual fundraiser in Florala – and donated their take from the door, which totaled nearly $1,500, back to the fundraiser.

Band members include Ellis, who once played football at Baker School, Gabe Cassidy, who plays lead guitar, Zach McCarver, who plays bass guitar, and TJ White who plays drums. All the men have full-time jobs during the day. 

In fact, the band has its roots in their full-time jobs, since Ellis and McCarver worked at the same company in different departments. After learning they both played music, they got together to play guitar one night and decided to form a band. They added White as the drummer and, a little later, Cassidy. The other band members say he fit right in and has also played a key role in their sound, business and marketing.

Contributed photo

The band’s name is based on McCarver’s experience after he moved here from Tennessee and needed to ask people for directions. They always referenced being “above” one town or “below” another. Since they were looking for a name that told people where they were from, Below Alabama clicked with them instantly.

“That was pretty much it,” McCarver said. “It’s pretty simple. The band is ‘below’ Alabama.

All of the members have played music for most of their lives, some with bands, some at church and others in school bands.

“We all play multiple instruments and love a wide range of music,” McCarver said. “Between the four of us we run the gambit of music we enjoy, music we have played and what we consider influences. 

“We call ourselves a country band but listening to our music you will hear elements of everything from blues and rock to punk and hip hop,” he added.

Contributed photo

Alliance director stresses importance of longleaf pines

By Jody Conrad

news@srpressgazette.com

It’s hard to imagine today, but just over 100 years ago the coastal plains of America from Virginia to eastern Texas were covered by about 92 million acres of longleaf pines. Fortunately, we have folks like Vernon Compton who care about preserving and restoring the 1.3 million acres left in Northwest Florida and South Alabama.

Compton, who works with the Longleaf Alliance as their director of the Gulf Coast Plain Ecosystem Partnership, said that the Alliance is a voluntary public and private land partnership formed in 1996 to preserve and restore these forests.

“Today we only have about 12,533 acres of virgin old-growth longleaf left in this area, and most of it is on Eglin Air Force Base,” he said. “Quite possibly all that spared these acres was the inability to get a railroad spur there.”

According to Compton, a lot can be learned from these remaining forests. Some of these things include diverse flora and fauna that once existed on the forest floors that look nothing like the dense brushy thickets associated with pine forests today.

“Over 170 species of herbaceous plants are native to these ecosystems, with over 6,000 plants found only in the longleaf ecosystem of the Coastal Plains,” he said. “Where the forest floor today is choked out with invasive woodies like Chinese privet, it was once covered with low-growing native shrubs and wildflowers that reveled under the canopies of the trees. The groundcover is the most important part of the ecosystem and without the pines, the groundcover disappears.”

The trees themselves were home to many endangered animals that are at risk of becoming extinct. “The red cockaded woodpecker is an example of an endanger bird that we are working diligently to restore habitat for,” he explains. “They thrive only in these coastal pines and nowhere else in the world.”

Vernon Compton of the Longleaf Alliance. Contributed photo

Local residents are no strangers to the smoky skies of forest fires, and Compton explains the role that fire plays in keeping these forests healthy.

“Many local people get angry about the smoky skies and think we’re destroying forests, but the public needs to be educated about the role fires play in forest health,” he said. “Longleaf is a ‘fire forest,’ meaning that without it, the forest floor would be choked with hardwoods and woody shrubs, leaving no room for the native plants and animals

“Since we live in the ‘lightning strike’ capital of the world, lightning used to take care of this problem. Then man intervened. For many years, the federal forestry department believed that fire was bad, and today we frequently see on the news how this thinking has worked out for California. These days, very detailed plans allow controlled burns to do the work nature once handled. When the thickets are burned, the forest thrives again,” he added.

The Longleaf Alliance strives to ensure a sustainable future for this ecosystem through partnerships, landowner assistance, and educational and outreach opportunities. “Without this work, we’d still look like the early 1900s when the logging industry had cut down every pine in site and the vestiges had been ravaged by the turpentiners and wild hogs,” Compton concludes.

“While the longleaf was a huge component in building much of America, we’ve come a long way in understanding the value of leaving portions of our forests undisturbed and replanting and restoring what we need to use.”

Crestview making speedy progress on animal control service

Crestview is moving along rapidly to create an animal control service that gives residents what they deserve in terms of service, according to City Manager Tim Bolduc.

Bolduc informed the City Council Jan. 24 that while he had initially believed it would take 90 days to develop the department, he now believed it would be ready in about two weeks – just over a month from when the contract ended with the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society.

“It is realistic that we will be in the animal control business somewhere in the next two weeks,” he said. 

A new animal control officer has been hired and she, along with seven other city employees, will be spending four 10-hour days in training.

The former Crestview animal control facility is in the process of being renovated at the same time as a facility outside of Laurel Hill is overhauled. Photo by Wendy Victora Rudman

Although she had to give her two-week notice at her current job, which is also in animal control, she has been working with the city to prepare for the transition.

City staff has worked on electrical, wiring and sewer issues at the former PAWS facility in Laurel Hill, which the city will be using.

They have also made progress improving the city’s former animal control facility, which closed nearly a decade ago when the city contracted with the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society.

Wayne Steele, director of city operations, said that they are waiting for the materials to finish up work at the shelter at 715 N. Ferdon Boulevard.

He was with the city when it handled its own animal control services before and believes the 12-stall kennel with indoor/outdoor runs will be effective again.

“I know we’ve grown, the city has changed a little,” he said. “I think it will still work until we outgrow it.”

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