Pensacola, Florida
Monday July 22nd 2019

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Sen. Nelson Visits Pensacola

By Rick Outzen

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) trekked to the Republican stronghold of Northwest Florida to give updates on issues of local importance and listen to local leaders.

For an hour at Hyatt Place Pensacola Airport hotel, the senator walked through various issues ranging from the moldy courthouse to Syrian refugees.

Syrian Refugees
Since the terrorist attacks in Paris, several Republican governors, including Florida’s Rick Scott, have called on the federal government not to let Syrian refugees settle in their states.

Sen. Nelson made a distinction between the Syrian refugees coming into Europe and those arriving in this country. He said the refugees aren’t a problem for the United States, but the visa waiver given citizens from European countries is an issue.

“The problem right now is the visa waiver,” said Nelson. “Countries like France, England, Germany, all of their citizens do not have to have a visa to come into the U.S.–just like U.S. citizens don’t have to have a visa to go to Europe. Well, we now know from the Paris problems, how many of the extremists, the radicals, the terrorists, are in fact French citizens and Belgium citizens, and we’ve seen this in the past in the U.K. and in Germany. That’s where we have to tighten down the refugee problem; it’s actually a visa waiver, by making sure these people are not on the No Fly list.”

Sen. Nelson said that Homeland Security has already added increased security measures to deal with the visa waiver problem. He added, “One of the big helps would be if the European countries would help us with our No Fly list by giving us their intel information on their supposed No Fly list so that we could combine them and double check them between all of us.”

Last week, the senator had expressed concerns about the vetting process for Syrian refugees. He is now satisfied the process is working.

“Since then, I’ve talked to the Secretary of Homeland Security, the head of the FBI, the head of the CIA, and yes, they are going through an extensive background search and double checking,” said Nelson. “It takes up to two years, so you’ve got a pretty good idea at the end of two years whether or not this person is going to be a problem.”

The senator said that currently 2,000 Syrian refugees have settled in the U.S. over the past several years. About 175 have already settled in Florida.

He said, “Of those 2,000 who are in the U.S., not one of them has been involved in any kind of terrorist activity.”

Drilling in the Gulf
Sen. Nelson reiterated his stand against allowing drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off the shores of Florida.  He said those waters need to stay restricted, because they have become the “largest training and testing area in the world.”

“When the Navy shut down its Atlantic fleet training in Puerto Rico, where did they come?” asked Nelson. “They sent their squadron into Key West Naval Station, where they lift off the runway and in two minutes they’re over restricted airspace.”

He added, “It is very clear, every admiral and general will tell you that you cannot do all that we’re doing out there in the testing and training if you have oil-related activities.”

Nelson pointed out that 10 years ago, he and Sen. Mel Martinez, in a bipartisan effort, put the Gulf of Mexico off the shores of Florida off limits for gas and oil exploration.

“It’s the only place in law that is off limits to drilling in the entire outer continental shelf of the United States for these exact reasons,” said the senator.

Outlying Landing Field 8
For years, Escambia County and the Greater Pensacola Chamber have been trying to get the federal government to transfer Outlying Landing Field 8, 640-acres in Beulah, to the county.

The site has served as a helicopter training facility for Whiting Field Naval Air Station. The Chamber wanted it for an industrial park to attract businesses similar to Navy Federal Credit Union, which is nearby.

Contractor Jim Cronley and retired four-star Adm. Robert Kelly led the effort for the chamber. In an unusual move, Escambia County purchased land in Santa Rosa County and proposed a swap with the Defense Department.

Sen. Nelson told local leaders that the property transfer was part of the Defense Appropriations bill that was passed last week.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said the senator.  “Not only does it give you additional real estate close into town to do with what you all decide to do with it, but it actually makes the outlying landing field closer to Whiting, so that it’s more convenient, and it’s less travel time, fuel cost, etc. for everybody. It’s a win, win for everybody.”

Federal Courthouse
Sen. Nelson and Federal Judge Casey Rodgers gave the group an update on the federal courthouse in Pensacola that has been plagued with mold and other health issues.

“We’ve had these kinds of problems in other federal courthouses; all they have to do is send me into the courthouses, and I’m like the canary in the coal mine, because I’m very allergic to mold and mildew,” said Nelson. “I can tell you in one whiff whether or not it’s there. People have been forced to work under unhealthy circumstances.”

The senator said the General Services Administration, the agency responsible for the building that was constructed on the site of the old San Carlos Hotel, is deciding whether to build a new courthouse or rehab it to where it meets all of the standards.

“That is a question that GSA is going to determine on a cost/benefit ratio,” said Nelson. “Judge Rodgers shared with me that costs are actually turning out to be fairly similar either way that you went. Once that decision is made, then the question is I’ve got to go and try to appropriate the money to get it done. You all desperately need that done.”

Congressional Rancor
When asked about the political rancor in Congress, Sen. Nelson said that it would be difficult to stop as long as the nation is in a presidential election season.

“The most disappointing part is it makes it harder to do what I’m all about,” said the senator. “That is, regardless of party, we bring people together to try to build a consensus to try to get a workable solution.”

Sen. Nelson lamented, “That is a lot more difficult today than it was when I came into politics years ago.”