It was a year you won’t have to make a point to remember, it will jump out at you as a “Where were you when?” time.
Where were you when the fires tore through Eastpoint and burned up an entire neighborhood within a matter of hours?
When Hurricane Michael stormed in, and took with him things you wanted to keep, like your house, and your car, loved ones, those sort of things?
If you got married, or had a baby, you’ll remember what that was like, and think back on a 2018 blessed with promise, so that’s a good thing. Maybe the year you met your dream and had to think fast, “Enemy or friend?”
Someone may have died who you loved very much this past year, and now you have to decide how to do without. Some deaths may have come suddenly, others gradually over time, more or less merciful, depending how you look at it.
Actually, if you look hard enough, you can find some bursts of sunshine in a thunderstorm kind of year. Take April, for instance, when two men, on a sailboat bound back to Michigan, overturned off St. George Island, and clung to their boat, until the next evening, when the Coast Guard picked them up. As bad as it was, it could have turned out differently.
Yes, there were many good and sweet things that happened this past year, but they generally were sandwiched in between events ranging from the terrible to the merely miserable.
A judge stepped down, and a new one was elected, Gordon Shuler, a genial son of the family’s long-standing legal work in the county, and that was a good thing for a majority of voters, the others finding their favorite in Barbara Sanders, a St. George Islander equally influential in the county’s changing community.
Apalachicola got a city manager who pushed through a water and sewer hike that had been too long ignored, and that was a good thing, at least so far. The impact of these rate hikes will be felt less intensely in the next six years they’ll be in place, and 2018 will be remembered as the year when the water rate hikes were no longer ignored, and the tide turned against those who had put good financial sense aside to pursue nice-sounding fiscal irresponsibility.
The county got a narrow ruling from the Supreme Court, thanks to the liberals the administration wants to remove from the court, in favor of Florida in its case against Georgia’s using of water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee_Flint river system to the detriment of its downstream friends and neighbors, which means us, so that’s a good thing. The case is soon going back to the court, after a new special master cogitates some more on the law and shares what more he’s learned with the nine justices, who will have one new appointee from 2018 sitting with them.
Politics is always with us, and this year was no exception. In addition to the very well-liked county judge retiring, County Commissioner Cheryl Sanders did too, announcing right after the first of the year she wouldn’t be seeking reelection. She went out like the lion she had been, a heart like a lamb, with a roar that came out in dedicated years of leadership for the county. The new face that replaced her, Bert Boldt, from Alligator Point, is just getting started, so that’s a good thing. He’s got plenty of time to make the right decisions, and if the situation calls for it, the wrong ones.
Tax Collector Rick Watson, a Gov. Scott appointee who chalked up a dynamic record over the his more than a year of incumbency, managed to eke out a win in a three-way race, overcoming the difficulties gubernatorial appointees have winning locally, and even more significant than that, managing to become a rare non-native son or daughter to be elected to countywide office.
St. George Island got a new island overlay and the county paid a nice chunk for land owned by Walter Armistead, that he won’t be turning into an RV park. George Kirvin Floyd won’t be building one either, thanks to the new overlay. Some island residents, led by the civic club, mapped out a long-term strategic vision for the county. Jay Abbott, not very arguably the county’s most high-profile fire chief, was forced by budget tightening into retirement by the board of directors of the island’s fire department. So these are good things, right?
Here’s what isn’t good. The two biggest, not the one biggest, stories of the year and neither is good, except for the heartening stuff that’s come afterwards. In June it was a controlled burn rekindled on Lime Rock, that swept over three roads in Eastpoint and left it looking like the petrified forest. That was on Sunday evening, June 24, and that was probably the biggest story because it was unusual, hearkening way back before recent memory to some sort of 19th century blaze that took down half of downtown.
But a very close second was Hurricane Michael, on Wednesday, Oct. 10, which cost the county in terms of property a million dollars or more, but left it without the ruination and scarring of the two counties to the west, and parts north of that deeper in the woods. The changes that storm brought with it, in terms of longer-term business realignments, tenancy, new housing starts and renovation, will be felt in 2019, so that’s a good thing.
There was no good thing about the beating death of a South Florida woman at an Eastpoint motel, her body dumped on the side of the road by a man and a woman with whom she was traveling back from Dallas, through New Orleans, back to Miami. Law enforcement apprehended the two alleged perpetrators swiftly, so you sort of can say that turned out to be a good thing. The murder was April 22, 2018. Trial of the two suspects is expected this year.
Another good thing you could say about 2018 is that several buildings got either built or restored. It was the year they built a new city hall in Carrabelle, with dedication of the new building expected early next year. The new Camp Gordon Johnston museum was dedicated, and Apalachicola’s Gorrie Museum was reopened with a new display, and the Apalachicola Margaret Key library swung open its doors.
It was a dismal year when two pilots, one on an experimental aircraft at the Carrabelle airport, the other on a small Cessna returning from Apalachicola to Fort Myers, each perished in crashes, fortunately extremely rare events in the county.
It was a year of change, some that came at great cost, which begets a year of opportunity. The future of housing in Franklin County has been shaken up for good, defined more and more by the ongoing conversion into an economy based mostly on tourism, and the vision of vacationers, retirees and other new arrivals and transient visitors.
In short, it wasn’t the most wonderful year, in fact a lot of bad stuff happened, but it was our year, and that’s all we had to work with.
SEE OUR TOP TEN STORIES, BEGINNING ON PAGE 2