Situated in the Florida Panhandle along Interstate 10, Crestview is one of those All-American communities reporters look for when they want to interview “average Americans.” The city of 24,000 is home to more than 60 churches, eight schools, a regional hospital, a community center that doubles as a conference center, and a library that's evolved into the de facto community arts center.
The Main Street Association of merchants and business owners hosts a wide range of events — including a barbeque cook-off, an Easter egg hunt, and a vintage car show — and parades annually, drawing thousands of people from surrounding communities into Crestview's historic downtown business district. The Old Spanish Trail Festival Society, named after the route that Spanish, English, and French traders traveled between Texas and Florida, honors the area's history every year. In spring and summer, farmers' markets and fruit stands pop up all over town, offering locals the opportunity to buy fresh produce from area farmers. Impromptu flea markets spring up, where residents buy everything from hunting supplies to fresh shrimp.
As the seat of Okaloosa County, Crestview also houses the county courthouse, the county prison, a state police regional headquarters, and driver's license bureau.
Like many cities in Florida, Crestview grew exponentially over the last two decades. Population more than doubled.
The city's largest department, Public Services, works behind the scenes to maintain the community's enviable standard of living. Sixty employees care for 140 miles of streets, roads, alleyways, and maintain easements and buildings. In addition to eight wells and elevated storage tanks and 50 lift stations, the water and sewer divisions operate a 320-acre solid waste treatment plant and irrigated spray field. A “beautification crew” works with the parks and recreation department to maintain 90 acres of parks.
From all outward appearances, everything's fine. But for several years, the public services department has been laying the groundwork for a rather unusual challenge — a onetime surge in population — thanks to Uncle Sam.
In 2005, during the most recent reshuffling of U.S. military resources, the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) announced that the Army's 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) would move from Fort Bragg, N.C., to the prime real estate that lies immediately south of Crestview — Eglin Air Force Base, the largest Air Force base in the nation — by September 2011. In addition, the Army would build a $360 million cantonment area with housing for those in training. Everyone else — an estimated 4,184 households — will most likely make Crestview, located just a couple miles up the road, their new home.
As a result, the population is expected to swell by at least 6,000. According to the most recent Army statistics, the relocation will bring 2,200 service personnel; 3,800 family members; and about 200 support jobs between civilian and contracted positions, plus their families. The Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, Fla., also projects that another major change at the base — the opening of a Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Training Center — will add 2,326 personnel; 1,163 spouses; and 1,396 children for a total of 4,885.
In 2007, the county experienced its first year of negative population growth in decades. But even after factoring in the decline, Eglin's Economic Impact Statement (EIS) estimates net population growth to be about 10,000.
Compare that to an annual growth rate of 7% under normal conditions.
Patti Beebe, the city's finance director, estimates that the additional population will generate about $1.5 million in tax revenues.
A NEW UNFUNDED MANDATE
Still, while the Department of Defense finances on-base infrastructure projects, the agency doesn't reimburse communities for improvements related to relocations — at least not yet.
“The rub comes when you look at outside-the-fence impacts,” says Jeff Fanto, growth project coordinator for the Tri-County Joint Land Use Study and Comprehensive Growth Planning Study. “It's sort of a blessing and a curse: We gain the mission and the people, but there are no dedicated federal resources to help communities offset those needs.”
The department's Office of Economic Adjustment plans to identify relocation-related capital improvement projects for funding through the Office of Management and Budget. But given everything else competing for federal funding, it's hardly a top priority.
“This idea of growing communities because of realigned bases is still a relatively new idea for Congress,” Fanto adds. “In the past, realignments were much less dramatic — mostly closures — but this round involves a lot of growth. Trying to get that message through to Congress has been difficult.”
County officials began assessing and marshaling resources almost as soon as the relocation was announced.
In June 2006 the Eglin Installation Growth Committee was formed to make the county eligible for federal grants to fund the infrastructure expansions necessary to smoothly integrate the new residents. Although some personnel and their families began arriving last fall, most will move to Florida in the months just before the realignment deadline. Eleven subcommittees were formed to analyze the impact on such areas as transportation, utilities, and housing.
In 2008, the committee received a $1 million Defense Department planning grant, which was used to retain HDR Engineering Inc. to prepare an impact study. The preliminary draft of the Tri-County Growth Management Plan was released in February.
In the meantime, Crestview moved forward with utility upgrades.
Public services retained CH2MHill to design-bid-build a $23 million, five-phase wastewater treatment plant expansion and $4.7 million in water system upgrades. The phased approach allowed the city to satisfy growth requirements with minimal impact on existing customers.
Still, to meet the additional demand on the city's infrastructure, sewer rates likely will increase annually for the next several years, depending on the results of a rate study conducted by the city, Beebe explains.
The first phase consisted of a new master lift station in 2006 followed by the second and third phases in 2008. Treatment capacity was expanded from 2.1 mgd to 2.75 mgd, and two new anoxic tanks were added. Existing boat clarifiers were replaced with two circular clarifiers and four new oxidation ditch aerators.
In 2007 the city filed for a new consumptive-use permit for two new water wells and two 500,000-gallon elevated storage facilities to expand pumping capacity to 9.4 mgd from 7.1 mgd.
The final two phases began construction last month. They will expand the treatment capacity from 2.75 mgd to 6 mgd and increase the disposal capacity by adding six rapid-rate infiltration basins (RIBs) to the existing 250-acre tract of spray irrigation. The department bought 140 acres next to the existing treatment and disposal site for $1.4 million through bond financing. The land acquisition is designed to reduce pumping and piping costs associated with conveying effluent to the basins.
Looking forward, the department contracted Tetra Tech Inc. to provide a 20-year master plan, rate study, and hydraulic analysis of its water system.
CUTTING OFF CONGESTION
Crestview and Eglin Air Force Base are connected by State Road 85, a four-lane road and the only north-south corridor in Okaloosa County through Eglin.
The Tri-County Growth Management Plan projects that by 2016 the demand on the corridor through Crestview will be equivalent to 6 to 8 lanes, or the equivalent of more than 2,000 afternoon peak-hour trips through the city, which already sees 46,500 peak-hour trips per day.
The county received stimulus funding last year for a $15 million overpass that provides access to the base without affecting civilian traffic. Other traffic-flow measures include a flyover on County Road 123 for personnel leaving the base, and a $175 million, three-phase bypass around the nearby city of Niceville.
To encourage economic growth, the Crestview City Council placed a temporary moratorium on traffic impact fees.
But at least one other proposal — closing all median crossings and most driveway connections to reroute business traffic to alternate routes — is meeting with resistance from the city council and the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce. It would create a four-lane route through the city with few access points to downtown. Discussions are ongoing.
To expand its public safety department, in 2008 the city bought an old industrial building and several surrounding acres adjacent to the facilities for Spanish Trail Park.
The police and engineering departments prepared plans for parking and interior renovations. The year-long construction was performed by public services employees and inmates from the county jail using materials purchased locally. From framing to drywall installation, as well as electrical and plumbing improvements, they built 11,000 square feet of office space inside the warehouse and renovated an additional 10,000 square feet for a meeting room. They also built a kitchen and public restrooms and left the remaining 17,000 square feet for storage and warehousing.
The new $239,000 police headquarters was completed in October 2009, uniting operations under one roof. The central portion of the building, named the Whitehurst Municipal Building after former Mayor George Whitehurst, holds overflow from city council meetings.
Crestview recently upgraded many of its parks, and is scheduled to finish another this month. The city obtained a $200,000 Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) grant to build a walk track around a fishing lake in Twin Hills Park that includes a fishing pier, restrooms, two pavilions, and fitness stations along the way.
—Steele (email@example.com) is the public services director for Crestview, Fla. Hughes is a staff writer for the Crestview News Bulletin.
To read the 41-page analysis of the relocation's impact on Oskaloosa County, visit here.
Round No. 5
The most recent implementation of military base closures will be complete by next September.
In May 2005 the U.S. Department of Defense released the preliminary 2005 Base Realignment and Closure list, the fifth proposal generated since the process was created in 1988. It recommended closing 33 major military bases and enlarging or reducing 29 others. The closures and realignments began in 2007 and must be complete by Sept. 15, 2011. Closures include 10 Air Force bases, 14 Army posts, and nine Navy bases.
The nine-member Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission estimates that the move will save the Pentagon $15 billion over 20 years.