The outlines of a deal have been reached between Apalachicola and the state of Florida to have the former headquarters of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve revert to the city sometime next year.
Pam Phillips, communications administrator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Coastal & Aquatic Managed Areas, said that three-way talks between City Administrator Betty Taylor-Webb, and officials from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have yielded an agreement.
This deal would give the city the main building, and the surrounding property including parking. Not included would be the nature walk that extends out into the bayou as well as the modular building closest to Scipio Creek.
“We will retain other portions of property that we’re still using. There is also a modular building used as offices and as a staging area for boat slips in the marina,” said Phillips. “It does not include the nature walk which is still open to the public.”
DEP staffers are continuing to use the building, and will until the time that Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet approve the transfer of the property.
“As far as we’re concerned, the sooner the better. We don’t have a date unfortunately,” said Phillips. “We still are running the electricity; they are in and out of it. Technically, we still are in it. We are moving forward in the midst of a process to return it to the city for their use.”
The property is reverting back into city hands because when the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve first created its headquarters there, part of that property was donated by the city and part assembled by donations from private landowners.
“Now, it’s one big parcel,” said Phillips. “When funding became available for the new outreach office in Eastpoint, we spoke with the city and they said they would be interested.”
Because NOAA helped fund the creation of both buildings, in a 50-50 split with the state, it too has been brought into the mix. “NOAA is interested in seeing it continue to serve the public,” said Phillips.
She said the Betty Taylor-Webb, on behalf of the city, and DEP officials have approved a survey completed by Robert Mills, of Baskerville-Donovan Inc., that details specifics of where the boundaries would be.
Phillips said the survey does not include any of the building or lands held by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for its aquaculture building, which are held under a separate lease.
Taylor-Webb has told city commissioners that several residents have approached her with creative ideas for use of the building, but not specific proposals have yet been considered.
The city is seeking to have the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge relocate to the former ANERR site, but those talks have reached a stalemate.
“We had told GSA (General Services Administration) we’re not interested in it,” said James Burnett, manager of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. “We ruled it out in its current configuration. It wouldn’t work for us.”