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With a lawsuit against the project pending, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has cancelled a bid solicitation for construction of the planned $19 million Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery & Enhancement Center in Pensacola.

DEP officials released a one-page notice of bid cancellation on Wednesday to the firms which had submitted bids for the project.

“Due to issues outside of the DEP’s control that prevent implementation of the project, this solicitation is hereby canceled,” the notice read. “Any bids which have been submitted will not be opened and will be returned upon request by the bidder.”

Pensacola’s Bruce Beach is the proposed site for the Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery and Enhancement Center. (Special to The Pulse)

Originally approved in 2011, the project would use money from BP’s Deepwater Horizon settlement to clean up the City of Pensacola’s long-vacant Bruce Beach property and establish a fully-contained fish hatchery and marine research facility. The project would also restore public access to the property for the first time in more than 30 years, with pedestrian paths, a bridge over Washerwoman’s Creek, and historical markers.

City council members approved a lease with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 2014, and after eight public meetings, approved the site plan for the project at the Bruce Beach site in 2016.

But the project, which once enjoyed broad community support, has become controversial since developer Quint Studer — who owns property across the street from the site — reversed his position and pulled his support for the hatchery last October. Studer has since funded an astroturfing campaign on social media using the “Move the Hatchery” Facebook page, which originally presented itself as a grassroots effort before Studer acknowledged sponsorship of the page.

Not long after Studer’s reversal, Pensacola residents Dan Lindemann and Jerry Holzworth filed suit against the City and FWC, alleging that FWC missed a deadline to begin construction and that the Bruce Beach lease should thus be voided. That litigation is ongoing.

Pensacola’s Bruce Beach has been vacant for more than three decades. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

DEP, which is handling construction of the project for FWC, had planned to open submitted bids on Feb. 8.

“Due to the pending litigation regarding the Florida Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery and Enhancement Center, the Department has decided to cancel the solicitation for construction bids on this project until further notice,” DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said Wednesday. “The Department and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) remain fully committed to this innovative project which would be the first of its kind in Florida. The Department appreciates the interest that has been shown in the project by contractors and suppliers and hopes all will continue their interest once the project is able to move forward.”

City spokesman Vernon Stewart also reaffirmed the city’s support for the planned hatchery.

“In partnership with FWC we also continue to be fully committed to this project,” Stewart said.

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