EDITORIAL: Air Force stance on Brooks Bridge may help ‘mission’

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

Eglin Air Force Base has spoken, and in doing so has likely made the Florida Department of Transportation’s task of coming up with a realistic location for a second bridge connecting Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island much easier.

A letter to FDOT from Col. Matthew Higer, vice commander of the 96th Test Wing at Eglin, didn’t mince words.

It said an assessment conducted by the Air Force found that six routes presently being studied as possible locations for an alternate bridge “may impose on our mission.”

“We do not support the inclusion of these routes on the list of alternatives moving forward for further consideration,” Higer wrote.

And that, as they say, is that.

The suggested alternates Higer for all intents and purposes nixed included bridges that would have extended from the end of residential roads at Yacht Club Drive and Hollywood Boulevard.

His letter also said the Air Force could not support the most controversial of all proposed alternates, a bridge extending from Wright Parkway to the end of Okaloosa Island’s Santa Rosa Parkway.

State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, applauded the Air Force move.

“This will prevent a lot of finger pointing and hand wringing,” he said.

What Gaetz is too politically astute to say is that the Air Force move will allow FDOT to halt what has appeared all along to be simply an exercise in public relations and focus on replacing the existing Brooks Bridge with something the area can be proud of.

Mark Hamrick, who sits on an advisory board that meets with those charged with planning the best way to replace the Brooks Bridge, said he sees real hope that a replacement bridge can be built without doing significant damage to downtown.

“When we started all of this it sounded like downtown Fort Walton Beach was going to get destroyed,” Hamrick said after seeing plans for a new six-lane Brooks Bridge. “Now, when you look at this, it’s looking like virtually nothing’s going to be taken out downtown.”

Though Tommy Barfield, the secretary of FDOT’s District 3 office in Chipley, said there will certainly be some “land acquisition” required to replace Brooks Bridge, Hamrick’s words give rise to hope that this project might actually be something area residents can get behind.

And wouldn’t that be amazing and wonderful?