Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday November 26th 2014

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The Buzz 1/13/11

AQUARIUM FIGHT Bill Young has a big challenge. The Pensacola resident and director of operations of Aquarium of Pensacola must raise $50,000 by Jan. 19 for a feasibility study for his proposed aquarium that would use the abandoned tanks at the Emerald Coast Utility Authority’s Main Street Sewage Treatment Plant.

The plant is scheduled for demolition this spring. Young and his supporters want the ECUA to delay it for six months while they have engineers study the feasibility of using the tanks for their aquarium.

“We believe the people of Pensacola have spoken very loud and clear that they want this aquarium,” said Young, who told the IN his group had collected 65,000 signatures in favor of the project. Of those signatures, about 20,000 are written, collected over the summer at Gallery Nights and other public events, and another 45,000 were collected through their website, goaquariumpensacola.com. He hasn’t determined how many of the signatures are by Pensacola and Escambia County residents.

Young sees the future of the Main Street plant site, which is two blocks west of Pensacola City Hall and across from the maritime park, as a battle between condos and the aquarium. He said that he has heard rumors that speculators have already expressed interest in the property for condominiums.

“The CRA is short-sighted if they think condos are a better option,” said Young. When pressed for details about the condominiums, Young admitted that he had only heard it “on the street” and had no specifics.

Young believes the proposed aquarium could be both a tourist attraction and an educational facility. The aquarium would not necessarily take up the entire site, but would be sized to the tourism draw determined by the feasibility study. The facility could also partner with the University of West Florida and be a marine research center.

When Young appeared before the ECUA board last month, he was given three requirements for the board to approve delaying the demolition. He needed to raise $50,000 for the study, demonstrate support of the city and also demonstrate support of UWF in time for the ECUA board meeting on Jan. 19.

Young believes he has the support of the City and UWF, but his non-profit only has raised about $5,000. They are actively soliciting major donors, but he believes that he can meet the goal with the help of those who have signed the petition.

“If 5,000 people would each give $10, we would have the $50,000,” said Young.

Donations to Aquarium Pensacola can be made online at goaquariumpensacola.com or by mail to Post Office Box 6503, Pensacola, FL 32503.

GROVER’S STILL SWINGING Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson is still battling BP and state and federal officials to make sure our area gets its fair share of grants related to the BP oil disaster. His latest issue concerns the grants for studying the impact of the disaster on near-shore waters. Instead of local universities being used, Temple University, based in Philadelphia, Penn., is administering the research.

Robinson wrote Herschel Vinyard, secretary of Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Tom Zimmer, who represents BP at the Unified Area Command in New Orleans, and RADM P.F. Zukunft, the Federal On-Scene Coordinator, asking that the University of West Florida and other local universities in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida be used for the research.

Here is the text of Robinson’s letter:

“It is my understanding that OSAT near-shore is being administered through a research grant to Temple University. While a fine educational and research institution, Temple has no expertise or local knowledge of the near-shore Gulf of Mexico. I believe that at some point, while Temple may be qualified to be the prime contractor, that sub-contractors representing the various local areas should be engaged. In Northwest Florida, there is no one with better expertise, knowledge and commitment to the Florida near-shore Gulf than the University of West Florida (UWF).

“UWF has the experience and they have been involved in researching our local waters since the very first day of the oil spill. In fact, through much of the event, UWF was the only source of reliable information for local governments in Northwest Florida. In addition, there has been considerable mention of the need to diversify the economies in the affected areas. There is perhaps no better way to diversify the economy than to improve educational opportunities within it.

“However, while local knowledge and economic benefits are good reasons for local participation, the real reason is that UWF is the only research institution with a vested interest in the long term environmental health of Northwest Florida. After these studies have been completed, most of the individuals will pack up and leave this area; however, UWF will continue to be here and serve the citizens of this region, and for that reason, it has the most essential commitment to providing a clean environment for Northwest Florida.

“For these reasons we strongly advocate the involvement and participation of UWF in the conduct and review of the study and analysis of the data. Thank you in advance for your understanding and commitment to protecting the shores of Northwest Florida.”