Concrete targets from Eglin Air Force Base await transport to become artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. The targets were donated to Okaloosa County, who then deposited them in designated areas to provide divers and fishermen habitat for a variety of undersea life. (Courtesy photo)

Eglin, Hurlburt continue local community partnership with “win-win” projects in Okaloosa

By Mike Spaits
Concrete targets from Eglin Air Force Base await transport to become artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. The targets were donated to Okaloosa County, who then deposited them in designated areas to provide divers and fishermen habitat for a variety of undersea life. (Courtesy photo)

Through the Eglin and Hurlburt Community Partnership Program, the two installations have collaborated with Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton County representatives to find solutions to both military and community problems since 2015.

As a result, the collaboration has produced multiple successes for the bases and counties. Now the entities are kickstarting efforts to keep the program moving into the future, with a meeting on April 27 at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville.

“It is very exciting to see the enthusiasm and renewed level of participation in the program,” said Dana McIntyre, 96th Civil Engineer Group deputy director. “With new and continued focus on the common issues like road capacity, housing and childcare shortages, STEM and workforce development, the opportunities to cooperate are inspiring.”

Some recent “win-win” projects include:

  • A Fort Walton Beach neighborhood drainage effort.
  • Concrete to reefs.
  • Okaloosa County adding Eglin beaches to its garbage collection contract.

Fort Walton Beach neighborhood drainage effort

In response to flood concerns from residents of the Overbrook Subdivision in Fort Walton Beach, Hurlburt Field and Okaloosa County personnel teamed up to develop a storm water runoff control system on adjacent federal property. 

  • The collaborative effort received financial support from Florida in the form of a $250,000 allocation towards the development and construction of the project.

Concrete-to-reef program

Concrete targets from Eglin Air Force Base await transport to become artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. The targets were donated to Okaloosa County, who then deposited them in designated areas to provide divers and fishermen habitat for a variety of undersea life. (Courtesy photo)

Beginning in 2015, Okaloosa County built a series of artificial reefs from repurposed concrete material donated by Eglin. The County received over 2,000 tons of clean, durable concrete material, at no-cost and utilized grant funds to pay for material transportation and deployment, according to Eglin AFB. 

  • The cost avoidance for Eglin to dispose of the destroyed concrete targets from on-going weapons testing thus far is $104,000.

The benefits to the community includes:

  • Sustainable reefs providing habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish species.
  • Increased tourism (dive and fishing opportunities).
  • Reduced land fill. 

This project paved the way for follow-on efforts including additional concrete-to-reefs and decommissioned military vehicles deployed as artificial reefs.

Trash collection on Air Force-owned and operated beaches

Eglin and Okaloosa County reached an agreement for trash collection on Air Force-owned and operated beaches. Eglin paid $36,000 annually for contracted trash collection on their beaches. The County was simultaneously collecting trash on adjacent beaches. 

The County picked up Eglin’s requirement for only $20,000 per year, resulting in $16,000 annual savings. As a result of the partnership, the county, for no additional cost, agreed to run their sand raking machine over the Eglin’s beaches.

Looking ahead, Eglin officials see plenty of room to continue the successes the partnership has developed.

“I am excited for the opportunity to work with our local partners in addressing needs that benefit both the Air Force and the local community,” said Eric Rushing, 96th CEG chief of engineering section. “Pooling resources and capabilities helps all parties to increase efficiency, reduce operating costs, and helps the overall quality of life for all.”

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