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2019: A year of change

David Adlerstein
The Apalach Times

The year 2019, like most others, had its ups and its down, joys and sorrows, wins and losses. In that regard, it was not different than the others.

But in one profound way, it stood out vividly, and that was as a year of profound change.

In virtually all aspects, from the ballot box to the hospital bed, from the cages of the shelter animals to the porches of swanky rental homes, 2019 was a year that will go down as a bridge between a romanticized past and a realistic future, a year of a fundamental shift in perspective for Franklin County.

It wasn’t so much that permanent changes were all put in place; important decisions still await the future of municipal and county government, of health care, of education, of housing. But clearly a shift in the groundwork was laid for upcoming developments that will alter the future in the years and decades to come.

In this spirit, we offer an overview of the past with our Top Ten stories, not necessarily in order of importance, but covering the whole of a county that will regard 2019 as the year when the cities and county wrestled with what it needed to do as it set to embark on the second decade of the 21st century.

We suggest that these Top Ten include:

A political changing of the guard, when the landscape in Apalachicola shifted like few others in recent memory, with a new majority of commissioners elected, none of them ever holding office before, and a new attorney chosen to replace a longstanding one. A year when Carrabelle chose to alter its election cycle to better conform to the county’s, and so put off until 2020 its balloting. When the county got a new judge.

A renewed look at health care, when the future of Weems Memorial Hospital - always one of the top stories - was discussed and reviewed with new enthusiasm and more exacting analysis. A year when the county replaced the hospital CEO, a position long staffed by traditional hospital execs, with a local man not schooled in the intricacies of health care finances but skilled at working with the community and staff.

Dogs got in on the year’s action, too, as 2019 was marked by a heated argument over whether the gun range adjacent to the Eastpoint animal shelter had to be moved, after the humane society closed, and later reopened, the one access road to the range. In addition, the county pressed the two cities to help fund a part-time animal control officer it said was necessary to help address problems being faced in the cities. And the county stepped up its call for all dogs on the beaches to kept under leash.

A tip of the hat to tourism, which had a record year for bed tax receipts, a year that saw the approval of a 57-acre planned unit development, Serenity Seaside Resort, in Eastpoint, that was hotly opposed by residents of the surrounding South Bayshore Drive neighborhood, who deplored it as a Destin-style commercial tourist resort.

Affordable housing was, not surprisingly, a growing topic of concern. Carrabelle addressed it, by partnering with a South Florida developer to transform 56 lots on the vacant 39-acre Jordan Bayou subdivision. In addition, the same McDowell Housing Partners began working to secure housing monies to erect 30 single-family detached home units on the former Carrabelle High School, and later the City Hall, site.

The traditional seafood industry continued to receive help, beginning with the infusion of $8 million in Triumph monies to Florida State University, part of a multi-year research project designed to see how Apalachicola Bay can best be restored to its former glory as an oyster nursery. In addition, the National Fish and Wildlife Federation provided various universities, non-profit groups and state agencies an additional $55 million, spread out over the next several years, in an effort to restore the region’s environment and in doing so, enhance fishing opportunities.

Food trucks and dollar stores surfaced as increasingly popular options for how we shop, for prepared food on the run and household goods where we live. Both stirred controversy, with Apalachicola wrestling how to regulate food trucks within the city, a matter that continues to be in the courts even while new rules have been adopted. A new Family Dollar in Eastpoint was greeted warmly, but a proposed Dollar General in Lanark Village drew lots of opposition, and is sure to be hotly contested at the public hearing in three weeks.

The “water wars,” the ongoing dispute with Georgia and Alabama over how best to divvy up water flowing through the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system, was a hot topic all year long, which led to a hearing before a special master newly appointed by the Supreme Court. The results weren’t good. Judge Kelly decided he favored Georgia’s arguments in the case, and that doesn’t bode well with how the justices will decide the case in the months to come.

The scourge of drugs did not evaporate in Franklin County, which continued to feel the impact of the meth epidemic. But there were steps in the direction of focusing on rehab over incarceration, with the sheriff pushing hard for a plan to transform the abandoned Bay City Work Camp in Apalachicola into a Bay City Wellness rehab center. And Hope Park, which sprang up in a drug-riddled Eastpoint neighborhood in the aftermath of the Lime Rock fire, slowly grew all year long into a thriving spot that will help invigorate the community and give it new, wholesome life.

The state of the Franklin County schools, particularly its sports programs, rounds out the list of top stories in 2020. In February, the district put in place a new leadership team, headed by Michael Sneed, and adding to the excitement, Nathan West’s Seahawks made their first appearance in the Class 1A bosy basketball Final Four in a decade. But by the fall, West had left for a private school in Georgia, and the new football coach Josh Palmer endured a losing season, and the loss of three transfers to Port St. Joe, before the season was cancelled two games early.

Throughout this issue, we’ve provided a recap of at least five of these stories, and photos from throughout the year, to provide a glimpse of what 2019 was like.