Destin Chamber, County Commissioners oppose dissolving Mid-Bay Bridge Authority

Matt Algarin

Operators of the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority are closely watching Senate Bill 1132 as it makes its way through the Florida Legislature.

"The portion we are concerned with that impacts the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority and Okaloosa County is sections 26 and 27," Mid-Bay Bridge Authority Executive Director Jim Vest told county leaders during their March 19 meeting.

A portion of the bill would create the Regional Toll Authority Act, while others would create separate three-county authorities that would be responsible for the maintenance and operation of toll systems throughout the state of Florida. Along the Panhandle, Bay, Okaloosa and Walton counties would be combined into the Okaloosa-Bay Regional Tollway Authority.

Given the movement of the bill, Vest has received support from the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce and the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners, who have both issued resolutions opposing sections 26 and 27 of SB1132.

Destin Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shane Moody told The Log that this isn't the first time the chamber has issued a resolution of support for the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority, and it wouldn't be the last.

"We're opposed to any legislation that would dissolve the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority," he said. "If you look at the Destin area and south Okaloosa County, the only real positive road projects have been the Mid-Bay Bridge connector and bypass."

"They have also forged a great relationship with Eglin Air Force Base and that relationship is vital," he added.

County Commissioner Dave Parisot also pointed to the relationship between the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority and the local military installations.

"Had it not been for the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority and the relationship that you've nurtured with Eglin Air Force Base, these road projects that you are currently building could not have gotten done," he said.

A majority of the land that has been used to build the Mid-Bay connector and bypass sits on land that has been leased from Eglin Air Force Base.

In addition to issuing a resolution, Parisot also wanted to assure that the county's lobbyists in Tallahassee were well aware of the matter.

"We can also bring it to the attention of the Florida Association of Counties," he said. "They have lobbyists up there."

County Commissioner Kelly Windes was on the same page, adding that "government that works closer to home works the best."

The Mid-Bay Bridge Authority was established by legislation in 1986 to construct, operate and maintain a bridge and facilities that crossed the Choctawhatchee Bay, according to the county's resolution.

"Transfer of Okaloosa County's transportation assets from a local authority to a regional authority runs counter to the reasons that the authority was first established," the chamber resolution reads. "The board supports user-financed transportation in Okaloosa County through the continued partnership among the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority, Eglin Air Force Base and the Florida Department of Transportation."

Based on the Senate website, SB1132 was last voted on April 11 in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development where it received 10 yeahs, and zero nays.