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The Green Blueprint

After an initial meeting, Escambia County and local environmentalists are a step closer to selecting who will represent environmental interests on the county’s RESTORE Act advisory committee. With only loose instructions from county commissioners, the process is being born nearly from scratch.

“The county does not really want to be seen as orchestrating this,” explained Escambia County Community and Environment Director Keith Wilkins at the onset of the Jan. 7 meeting.

With expectations that the RESTORE Act will funnel a windfall of money into Escambia County once the federal government and BP arrive at a final figure for Clean Water Act fines stemming from the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the county commission is assembling an advisory committee to help vet possible uses for the money.

Commissioners have made it clear that they’re looking for infrastructure and economic development projects. Thus, the nine-member committee will have only one environmental representative.

“I know there’s issues with people feeling like this is a done-deal,” Wilkins told the attendees. “If that’s the case, it’s a surprise to me.”

While commissioners—both individually and as a body—will select the advisory committee’s other seats, the environmental seat was tossed to local “environmental groups” to decide. During this initial meeting, the groups—as well as interested individuals—established criteria for selecting someone for the seat.

“They have to be someone we look in the eye and say, ‘that’s someone I want representing the environmental community,” said Jim Cox, president of the Pensacola Beach Advocates.

According to the selection criteria established thus far: each local environmental organization gets one vote, unaffiliated individuals may not vote; to qualify as an environmental group, an organization must be incorporated in the state of Florida or be able to show an active record of participation and open meetings; the group must have been established prior to the end of 2012 and have a point-of-contact and address; and a group must have a mission statement advocating for the environment.

Local environmental groups are to submit materials verifying they meet the criteria by Jan. 14. A meeting will be scheduled the following week to select the advisory representative.

Wilkins said the commissioners were relying on the environmental groups to collectively select a representative—“the gauntlet has been thrown down”—and that an inability to do so could result in the commissioners making the selection.

“I do think it’s really incumbent for you guys to come to one if you can,” he said. “If not, we’ll see how it goes.”

Wilkins also conceded that the commission was the ultimate authority where Escambia’s RESTORE money is concerned and could decide to override any selection made by the environmental community.

“Can the board say, ‘nay?’” he said. “Yes. The board can say ‘we don’t like your nominee.’”

In addition to the environmental seat, the RESTORE advisory committee will consists of representatives from the fields of finance, government, transportation and business, as well as seats for the city of Pensacola, one at-large citizen and two individuals put forward by county administration.

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Buzzing on the Blog

Looking Out for 4-H Some members of the local 4-H community fear that a portion the money realized last year from the sale of its 240-acre property will be tapped if Escambia County runs over budget on a planned 10,000-square foot building it agreed to build for the group using Local Option Sales Tax money. County officials, as well as the director of Escambia’s 4-H extension office, assured them that such would not happen.

Drivin’n’Text’n Florida lawmakers will be considering three bills this legislative session concerning banning texting while driving. Rep. Clay Ford (R-Gulf Breeze) is sponsoring one of them.

Kumbayah Provision After being intentionally vague because it “didn’t want to get in the middle of that,” the Escambia County Commission recently specified how the city of Pensacola’s representative on the county’s RESTORE advisory committee will be chosen. Recognizing the friction between Mayor Ashton Hayward and the Pensacola City Council, the commissioners decided to have the mayor make the selection, which must then be ratified by the city council.

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R.I.P Distinctive Kitchens Since 2004, Distinctive Kitchens has been part of the downtown fabric on Palafox. The establishment offered cooking classes and, in the spring of 2005, allowed the IN to publish out of its back room after the paper’s offices were flooded. The business recently closed its doors.

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Escambia Claim To Shame The Statewide Child Abuse Death Review Committee has released its annual report. Escambia County is one of the worst in the state with 100 total child deaths and four verified child abuse/neglect deaths in 2011. The only counties, all of which are much larger, with more total child deaths are Orange (312), Miami-Dade (276), Hillsborough (241), Broward (210), Duval (148), Pinellas (144) and Palm Beach (135).  On verified child abuse/neglect deaths, Escambia’s four deaths ties it with Clay, Alachua and Lee counties, which puts it in the top nine counties for child deaths due to abuse or neglect.

Airstream Cuisine Alfresco’s, the food court at Palafox and Main, will soon be open. Z Taco, with its fresh-Mex menu, will be opening in late February and Gouda Stuff will begin offering gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches in March. Jerry’s Cajun Cafe, which closed in June, is also re-opening next door to Alfresco, in the back of the old Trader Jon’s building.

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