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$4.7M Project to Bring New Business, Opportunity to U.S. 331

Officials from Walton County, DeFuniak Springs and the Walton County Economic Development Alliance broke ground Tuesday on a $4.7 million water and sewer improvement project along U.S. Highway 331 aimed at boosting economic development in the DeFuniak Springs and Freeport areas.

Ground was broken this week in Walton County for a $4.7 million water and sewer infrastructure improvement project along and near U.S. Highway 331 aimed at boosting residential and commercial development along part of the road corridor and enhancing the Northwest Florida Commerce Park at Woodlawn.

The 226-acre industrial and commercial park is located on the west side of U.S. 331 directly across from West Indian Creek Ranch Road and a little more than a mile south of DeFuniak Springs. The project for which ground was broken Tuesday will include the installation of about 3.5 miles of 16-inch water main along U.S. 331 from Coy Burgess Loop south to the Northwest Florida Commerce Park at Woodlawn, according to a county news release.

Also included in the project is the installation of pressurized sewerage piping from a sewerage pumping station near Interstate 10 to the industrial park, and the installation of two new wastewater pumping stations, the release notes.

As of mid-June, three companies had contracted with the Walton County Economic Development Alliance (WCEDA) for space in the park. The WCEDA is not a part of the county government, but is overseen by a board comprising representatives of the County Commission, educational administrators, utility providers, business owners and local mayors.  

One of the companies slated to come to the park sells manufactured homes and has plans eventually to build those homes at a facility there, according to WCEDA Executive Director Bill Imfeld. Also contracted to locate there is a drone manufacturer that will also provide technical training in that arena, Imfeld said earlier this year. And, according to Imfeld, a building truss manufacturer is also coming to the park.

Other companies also are being pursued, Imfeld said recently, but in keeping with standard practice in economic development initiatives, the names of those prospects are being kept confidential until a formal commitment from the business or businesses is in hand. However, Imfeld did hint that businesses being pursued “range from aircraft-related to technical companies that will be involved in high-tech training.”

“This project is life-changing for the residents of north-central Walton County,” Walton County Commissioner Danny Glidewell, quoted in the county news release, said at the groundbreaking.

Glidewell, one of a number of local officials on hand for the event and who also is chairman of the WCEDA, added that “(t)he businesses and the economic growth that this will generate is going to change the fabric of Walton County permanently — this is a ground-shaking, groundbreaking project.”

Along with Glidewell, the groundbreaking was attended by representatives from the city of DeFuniak Springs, the WCEDA and the Walton County Board of County Commissioners. 

The water and sewer project is being funded with a $3 million federal grant awarded through the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE) Act, and a $1.7 million grant from the Florida nonprofit Triumph Gulf Coast Inc.

Both the RESTORE Act and Triumph Gulf Coast Inc. leverage civil penalties connected to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 for local economic purposes. The spill threatened beaches along the Florida Panhandle and wreaked wide economic havoc as the tourism industry faltered.

“This project needs to happen,” County Commissioners Chairman Trey Nick said at the groundbreaking. “This is a very important project … to help promote commercial growth and residential growth within the county. The city of Freeport and the city of DeFuniak Springs are growing rapidly, and you are going to see these two cities thrive based on what this project brings.”

According to Glidewell, the groundbreaking came after “several years of work” by the county, DeFuniak Springs and the WCEDA.

“We’re just proud and we look forward to the economic development that this sewer system will generate on (U.S. Highway) 331 and the jobs that it will create and the life improvements it will bring our citizens,” he added.

The $3 million federal grant and the $1.7 million outlay from Triumph Gulf Coast Inc. aren’t the only funding that development of the Northwest Florida Commerce Park has received.

Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Walton County to present local officials with a $500,000 award from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund for road, water and sewer infrastructure improvements at the park.

And earlier this year, a grant of $482,417 came to the WCEDA through the federal Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency for work associated with the industrial park. That grant, obtained through a joint effort of the county, the WCEDA and DeFuniak Springs, is being combined with a $278,467 funding match from the WCEDA for the work.

Source: NWF Daily News

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