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Replacement of Brooks Bridge may impact communities

How to replace the Brooks Bridge in Okaloosa County is a topic that's divided communities and has been studied to the tune of millions of dollars.

The Florida Department of Transportation has said the bridge will definitely be replaced in its current location. But they're also studying whether a second bridge is needed, and if so, where it should be built.
Homes, businesses, and jobs could be impacted by the decisions.

When the Brooks Bridge was built a long time ago, there were far different standards for how high the bridge has to slope, and how long the approach had to be. There's a lot at stake for businesses downtown.

A new bridge could require a much bigger footprint, threatening a number of downtown businesses. That's a big concern for developers of the landmark center, a planned 33 million dollar development that would include a hotel and condos.

Ken Wright says his group has already reached out to the Governor's Office. "It would have a tremendous impact on jobs. We're going to create probably 300 jobs ourselves, just for our development, not withstanding how many jobs would be created or be maintained in the downtown."

Kathy Foster says on an individual level, the possible impacts are heartbreaking. Not just of a bigger Brooks Bridge, but of a possible second bridge. "Somebody's business is probably going to be torn down, somebody's home is probably going to be...but lets' do something that lasts for a hundred years."

She sat on the panel that oversaw the last bridge replacement study, which ended in a 1.5 million dollar stalemate. She also lives on Okaloosa Island, where people fought hard against a second bridge.

But like a number of local leaders she says people have to look past their own interest and come together now. Otherwise the state will decide for them.

"I think that if the community doesn't get involved, that something could be handed down to us that we might not be able to absorb," said Ken Wright.

The first of what may be many community meetings about the Brooks Bridge and a possible second bridge is Thursday evening at 5:30 at the Emerald Coast Convention Center.