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A recent article in the Pensacola News Journal erroneously reported that the marine fish hatchery to be built in Pensacola was not on track, potentially in violation of its lease terms, and that the city should reconsider the project. This one-sided perspective is not only shortsighted but also factually incorrect. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the city, all agree that FWC is not in violation of the terms of its lease and that the agreement remains valid.

FWC and DEP, as trustees for the state of Florida, spent several years negotiating with BP to bring this project to Pensacola. Ultimately, we agreed on a funding package exceeding $18 million to compensate the public for lost recreational fishing opportunities due to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. In executing the lease for the Bruce Beach property, FWC committed not only to build a world-class education and research facility but also to assist the city in reclaiming a degraded waterfront parcel that had not seen productive use for over 50 years. Since the lease was approved by the Pensacola City Council in May of 2014, FWC and DEP have worked closely with representatives of the community and the city on every aspect of planning and design for the project. Two committees, comprised of community members and representatives of city and county government, met six times during 2016 to provide input and feedback on the site plan and facility design. Out of this collaborative process came a final design that reclaims the Bruce Beach waterfront as a community asset, links the site to adjacent waterfront parcels, pays tribute to the historical significance of the site with educational amenities and houses a state-of-the-art marine fish hatchery and education facility.

The trustees engaged a local Pensacola firm in May 2016 to design the facility and complete the site plan. To date, over $800,000 has been spent on the project. Site surveys for protected species, cultural resources and geotechnical examination of stockpiled debris have been completed and multiple permits and agreements have been issued by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Pensacola Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the DEP. One hundred percent design documents, which benefited greatly from the input of the local committees, are complete and the construction bid will be out by the end of October 2017.

In committing to the 30-year lease with FWC to house the Pensacola Hatchery, the Pensacola City Council recognized the importance of the project to the region. FWC and DEP have carried that perspective into a collaborative planning process that put the design of the project largely into local hands. Together, we have designed a facility that will be an asset to the region for decades to come.

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Editor’s note: The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission originally submitted this viewpoint to the Pensacola News Journal; the News Journal declined to publish it.

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