Residents sound off on GRASI war games

Oysterman Darrian Turner said a fuel spill could kill Apalachicola Bay. Photo available for purchase

Oysterman Darrian Turner said a fuel spill could kill Apalachicola Bay.

Lois Swoboda
Published: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 11:28 AM.

At a pair of meetings held last week, Franklin County residents made clear that war games are not welcome in Tate’s Hell State Forest .

The Air Force has struck a deal with the state to lease sections of Tate’s Hell as part of its Gulf Regional Airspace Strategic Initiative (GRASI), a plan to relieve Eglin Air Force Base’s crowded airspace by expanding military training operations to the Tate’s Hell and Blackwater River state forests.

In the third of a series of meetings with Eglin representatives, residents from across the county took issue with an environmental impact statement (EIS) that contends training in Tate’s Hell would not affect the environment. The EIS was prepared by Leidos, a private defense contractor that works extensively with the Department of Defense.

 “Leidos assesses the potential impacts, gathering information from the Air Force, State of Florida and other sources,” according to Air force spokesman Mike Spaits. “The Air Force interdisciplinary team from Eglin, AFCEC and Headquarters Air Force then reviews and edits the document to prepare it for release.”

Lt. Col. Lynn Watkins presided over the meetings, which drew about two dozen attendees at each meeting, June 3 in Carrabelle and June 4 in Apalachicola . Displays of the Air Force proposal were available for viewing before the exchange of comments, but questions were not allowed during the meeting.

State Forester Jim Karels opened the session by announcing that, while he would not comment, he was observing the proceedings for the Florida Forest Service, which will make the ultimate decision about how Tate’s Hell can be used.

Eglin spokesmen Tom Tolbert and Mike Spaits read aloud portions of the EIS, followed by three-minute statements from attendees. Although the time limit was strictly enforced, some speakers were given extra time by members of the audience who ceded them minutes.

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