Perdido Key’s Last Chance
What a challenge the past ten years have been for Perdido Key and the surrounding area. 2004 saw our world crash down around us when Hurricane Ivan made landfall on September 16th. We received 85% destruction of our commercial properties on the Key and almost total devastation of our infrastructure on the island, plus sever damage on the mainland. The damage was not as acute on the mainland except in areas like Grand Lagoon which was swept clean of many of the homes that had been built there, but the effect was the same.
This Act of God changed everything we knew over night. Friends died that night, lives changed forever. It put people out of work and closed businesses everywhere. Housing became an issue and the tourist industry stopped as though someone had flipped a switch. The Real Estate market boomed for a period of time and then Hurricanes Katrina and Rita came ashore. When that happened the insurance companies stopped insuring Gulf Coast properties and with that the banks quit lending any money for that purpose. The recession had started for us a full year before the rest of the country.
It is hard to look back and see the success of growth before Ivan, Katrina and Rita. It is hard to remember that at that time we were progressing along at a good pace toward becoming a self-sustaining community. Building was not out of control then, there were and are plenty of controls to keep that from happening, but it was moving along at a good clip. Many of the projects that were on the board prior to the triple storm impact are completed now but many were let go. The high rises that were under construction are finished but the smaller projects fled the scene. The road was to be widened and the sidewalks, bike paths and underground utilities were all planned as we progressed toward a new day for our community. Alas this did not happen.
As 2006 dawned, the nation lapsed into the second worst economic slump in the country’s history and with that the decade was sealed as a bust for the west side of Escambia County. The final nail came when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service was allowed to place the entire island (Perdido Key) on the Federal Registry as potential endangered species habitat. This was accomplished by the manipulation of Janet Missy, a Supervisor for USF&WS, and of the then County Attorney Janet Landers, a raving environmentalist. The two conspired to scare the crap out the County Commission by indicating that if the county issued a single building permit during the two year wait period that was enacted for review of the USF&WS claims regarding the mouse habitat, that the Federal Government would in fact stop all payments of any kind to the county, including FEMA money. The County Commissioners at the time fell for it. This of course had never occurred in the history of USF&WS, but the threat was enough to bulldog the commission so they laid down and played dead and issued no building permits for two years. This effectively killed what little activity that was happening, on the Key and stymied growth on the mainland as well.
Fast forward ten difficult years and where are we now? The last 8 years have been a struggle to regain momentum lost by the events of the past, including the 2010 BP oil spill, but the momentum has been finally gaining. The rebuilding is just now starting and with the promise of a safer and wider road by the state and the further promise of a hotel and single family homes, as well as more commercial opportunities things have been looking good. The mouse and its critical habitat are still an issue but steps have been taken to stream line the mitigation process and fees that the Federal Government has placed on private and government lands. That fee is $100K per disturbed acre of land; this is over and above any other building costs. It is a premium that the Federal government charges for citizens to build in the designated critical habitat. I refer to this as extortion, but, it is the Federal Government so it must be OK.
We have been lucky to have a representative at the county that has understood all of this and fought for our rights in the process. Gene Valentino championed the desire of the community to be better, to have a safer road, sidewalks, bike paths and underground utilities. He recognized that Perdido Key is the “Western Gate to the Sunshine State” and needed to be more hospitable in appearance and more comfortable in living, therefore the new Visitor Center was constructed to house Fire Engine Company #19 with its new, taller reaching trucks as well as the Perdido Chamber and the Visitor Welcome Center. He also ushered in the Southwest Escambia County Sports Complex, a state of the art soccer, softball, baseball and football facility that allows Escambia to bring in tournaments from all over the country, feeding tax dollars into or general fund like never before.
We were on our way back, that is, until the last primary election. A Republican, Commissioner Valentino, after two terms was defeated by Doug Underhill in the primary. Mr. Underhill’s stated platform is to stop the road expansion and with it kill the hotel, sidewalks and bike paths. What Mr. Underhill, a cyber contractor/Navy Reserve officer supports is the death of progress. As a part time county commissioner he represents a special interest group of people that have their piece of paradise and they will do anything to not let it change. Underhill was pushed into the race by them and a power hungry sheriff that was mad because he could not get his way under the leadership of Valentino. The sheriff wanted 18M to renovate his jail but the county knew it was only a $3-5M fix and refused the extortion. The sheriff then threatened to give the jail back to the county and, under the leadership of Valentino (who preferred consolidation) they called his bluff and took the jail back. This angered the sheriff to the point that he decided to run his own candidate for District 2.
Now comes Mr. Underhill and in my humble opinion he is a puppet of the man that put him office, the sheriff. Mr. Underhill has stated that the road on Perdido Key will be a 7 lane road and take up 100% of the available land on the island and will have no sidewalks, bike paths or underground utilities. Horseshit…these are out and out lies! There will be sidewalks, bike paths, underground utilities and cross walks. The road will be built within the existing right of way of 110 feet, leaving hundreds of acres of private and public land available. The public land, around 70% of the entire island, will never be built on and the remaining land is held by private owners that are able to build anything they want, within the confines of zoning and the restriction placed upon them..including the mitigation fees charge by the USF&W.
Mr. Underhill’s distortion of the facts just to win an election certainly goes to his character. Plus he has had the audacity to call the Secretary of Florida’s Department of Transportation in Tallahassee to tell him to stop all District 2 projects until he gets into office. He has done this while only being the winner of the primary and long before being even a County Commissioner Elect. What kind of egotistical, self centered megalomaniac would do this? Does he presume himself King? Does he think that he can stop progress by simply willing it away? Mr. Underhill reminds me of President Obama, they both live in a fantasy world of self absorption. The road is a State of Florida project and any input to the state needs to come in the way of a resolution by the ENTIRE County Commission of Escambia County.
A little investigation shows that there is a history of financial mismanagement and reckless decisions at the least on Mr. Underhill’s part, but it could be much, much more. His background is littered with dubious dealings and unexplained activities that have hurt many people but have benefited him tremendously.
Mr. Underhill works as a government contractor and has stated many times that he will keep his job while being a county commissioner which makes him a PART TIME commissioner. This means that Mr. Underhill will not be available to his constituents on a daily basis and he will be called to Federal duty in an emergency and locked on base, unable to man his Emergency Operation Center post for the county as required.
This man has never been fully vetted by any media, not the News Journal, not WEAR, and not The Independent, is that because of the sheriff?
We will go to the polls on November the 4th to elect a new County Commissioner for District #2. We will have two choices…..but not really.
Deb Moore is the Democrat in the race and Underhill’s opponent. She is a sensible, well grounded individual that has more military experience than Mr. Underhill. She has a willingness to learn what the people want. Deb has stated that she will be a full time commissioner. She has said that she has no other goal than to serve the constituents of District #2. Unlike Mr. Underhill, she is not locked in to an agenda of “Repression” and “No Growth”. Deb will bring a calm and deliberate decision making process to the county commissioners bench. She will listen to the people, she has no predisposed positions and she will not be a puppet for anyone.
I don’t believe that the two party’s play a role in this election; I believe that we must vote for the person that will best represent the people. I believe that we MUST all vote for Deb Moore, Democrat, Republican or Independent, because the County cannot afford Mr. Underhill under any circumstances.
A vote for Underhill is a vote for repression.
A vote Deb Moore is a vote for progress.