Land swap deal cost tax payers $8 million so far, expected to climb

Photo source: WEAR-TV

A land swap two decades in the making between Escambia County and the U.S. Navy is nearing an end.

Escambia County hopes to gain ownership of a 600-acre plot of land next to the Navy Federal Credit Union in Beulah. In return, Escambia County will give the Navy a parcel of land in Santa Rosa County, near Ard Field Road.

The land, near Whiting Field, still needs to be brought up to Navy standards before the deal goes through, but it hasn't been touched since February.

Escambia County commissioner and board chairman, Doug Underhill said the best case scenario with the land swap right now is that the Navy accepts the land as it is.

"We've already spent well over what this deal was supposed to cost," said Underhill. "Quite frankly, Escambia County has really been put through the ringer on this thing - much of it by our own mistakes, our own faults - by not planning our work before we work our plan."

The worst case scenario, he said, is that Escambia County could end up with property in Santa Rosa County that they can't do anything with. Property that has cost Escambia County tax payers a lot of money.

The initial project was estimated to cost between $4 and $6 million. Right now, Commissioner Underhill said they're $8 million in and they'll likely still have to spend another $6 to $8 million before the swap happens. Underhill and several other commissioners said the county has spent so much money on the deal, they can't afford to walk away. Commissioner Jeff Bergosh said they could sell the land at $1 million an acre and make the money back, or they could make even more money with a different approach.

"What could we do if we bring companies in to fill that park? I mean, there is so much upside to that," said Bergosh. "Look at the history of county commerce parks. We have a very, very good track record. If it was a batting average, it would be .800, it would be double the highest batting average ever. We have a good track record, let us bring this in for a landing, let's create a lot more jobs here for Escambia County - that's the goal."

It's not yet clear what Escambia County will do with the land if the deal goes through. That would be discussed at a later date.

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