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Pensacola’s planned Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery and Enhancement Center has been in the works for more than five years, but it’s now back in the news as developer Quint Studer has reversed his support for the project.

Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation is being reported on this project. Here are five facts you need to know about the project.

1. The project is 100% funded by BP, not taxpayer dollars.

The marine research center project is fully funded from fines paid by BP in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, not city, county, or state tax dollars. The project’s budget also includes funding for the center’s first five years of operating costs. Furthermore, the money is earmarked for this specific project; it isn’t Pensacola’s to spend as we wish. Rejecting the hatchery would mean losing out on an $18.8 million investment in our city.

An evolution of the Bruce Beach site from the 1940s to today. (Special to The Pulse)

2. The project includes much more than just a hatchery, and would open up public access to the Bruce Beach waterfront for the first time in decades.

Beyond the hatchery, the $18.8 million project also includes preservation of heritage oak trees, cleanup of environmental contamination, and the restoration of public access to the Bruce Beach waterfront through the installation of paths and a pedestrian bridge over Washerwoman’s Creek. A former industrial site that was used as a recreation area for Black Pensacolians during segregation, Bruce Beach has been inaccessible for decades due to overgrowth, illegal dumping, and environmental concerns.

A rendering of the marine research center from Main Street looking towards Bruce Beach. (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

3. The proposed improvements align with the city’s 2010 redevelopment plan.

Contrary to claims by developer Quint Studer and the Pensacola News Journal, the improvements proposed as part of the hatchery project appear to align with the City’s 2010 Urban Core Community Redevelopment Plan. The plan specifically addressed the Bruce Beach site, calling for the addition of a boardwalk or trail, improvement of public access to the beach, and improvement of stormwater management features, all of which the hatchery plan would accomplish.

The project has received letters of support from Escambia County, the University of West Florida, and Guy Harvey.

The 2010 CRA plan (left) appear very similar to FWC’s plans for public nature trails and waterfront access (right). (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

4. There’s little chance the project could be moved to another site at this late stage.

Some, including mayoral candidate Grover Robinson, have suggested the hatchery project is worthwhile but should be moved to another site. In all likelihood, however, the time to make that point was back in 2011 when the project was first proposed. Five years down the line, a huge amount of effort has gone into designing the project around the Bruce Beach site, and officials have secured many of the required approvals and permits. While some in the media have erroneously reported that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has violated its lease on the site because vertical construction hasn’t commenced, both city and state officials agree that there’s been no violation. Bid documents will likely go out to contractors next month.

The bottom line: Any attempt to start over this late in the game would likely endanger the entire project.

Educational areas within the planned Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery & Enhancement Center. (City of Pensacola/Special to The Pulse)

5. Even if the hatchery doesn’t work out, the city gets a cleaned-up site and a free building.

Worst case scenario: Let’s say the hatchery is a total flop, and after five years the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decides to pull the plug. If that happens, the city will get the building, pathways, the Washerwoman’s Creek bridge, and all other improvements, and will have had its property environmentally remediated for a total cost to the taxpayer of zero dollars.

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