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Record-breaking weekend in Destin

To: Daily Rundown Readers


Okaloosa Junior ROTC Cadets receive monetary scholarships

Pictured L to R: General Michael Kostelnik (Retired), Cadet Colonel Erik Sirmans, Cadet Major Kayla Browne, Cadet Colonel Dawn Kerlin, Cadet Colonel Mark Almazan, Cadet Colonel Kayla McCarthy, Cadet Colonel Paige Lettelleir, and Deputy Superintendent Steve Horton (OCSD)

On Tuesday, May 16, five Okaloosa County high school JROTC Cadets and one University of South Florida AFROTC cadet, a graduate of Navarre High School, were recognized and awarded scholarships at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base.

Each year, the Eglin Air and Space Force Association (Eglin AFA) scholarship committee reviews and scores scholarship applications submitted by cadets. Selections are based on the cadet’s strong academic achievement and demonstrated leadership accomplishments within their JROTC unit.

In addition, each student received a certificate of special recognition from Congressman Matt Gaetz. 

  • Cadet Colonel Mark Almazan, Fort Walton Beach High School, $4,000 Cliff Long Sr. Leadership Scholarship. Almazan has been accepted into the AFROTC at the University of West Florida, where he will major in major in Business.
  • Cadet Major Kayla Browne, Fort Walton Beach High School, $5,000 Maggie Hsu Scholarship. Browne has been accepted into the AFROTC at the University of Central Florida, where she will major in Aerospace Engineering. 
  • Cadet Colonel Dawn Kerlin, Fort Walton Beach High School, $4,000 Jimmy Doolittle Scholarship. Kerlin has been accepted into the AFROTC at the University of Central Florida, where she will major in Biochemistry. 
  • Cadet Colonel Paige Lettelleir, Choctawhatchee High School, $4,000 Jimmy Nabors Memorial Scholarship. Lettelleir has been accepted into the AFROTC at the University of West Florida, where she plans to major in Biomedical Sciences. 
  • Cadet Colonel Kayla McCarthy, University of South Florida, and a graduate of Navarre High School, $4,000 Colonel Douglas and Carol Hardin Memorial Scholarship. McCarthy is an AFROTC cadet at the University of South Florida, majoring in Criminal Justice with a minor in Russian.  
  • Cadet Colonel Erik Sirmans, Niceville High School, $5,000 General Bill Kirk Scholarship. Sirmans is still weighing his options on where he plans to attend college. 

The Choctawhatchee (Choctaw) High School JROTC Color Guard participated in the event by posting the colors. Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt) Reginald Washington, also of Choctaw, sang a moving rendition of the National Anthem. 


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Okaloosa and Walton County Traffic Advisory

Drivers will encounter traffic disruptions on the following state roads in Okaloosa and Walton counties as crews perform construction and maintenance activities.

Okaloosa County:                                  

  • State Road (S.R.) 20 (John Sims Parkway) Resurfacing Project Drivers will encounter the following traffic impacts the week of Sunday, May 21:
    • Intermittent temporary east and westbound outside daytime lane closures on John Sims Parkway, from Edge Avenue to west of the Rocky Bayou Bridge, Monday, May 22 through Friday, May 26, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for concrete for sidewalk, curb and gutter construction.
    • Intermittent east and westbound nighttime lane closures on S.R. 20, from Edge Avenue to west of the Rocky Bayou Bridge, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., for median milling, median widening, and sidewalk construction.
  • S.R. 85 Resurfacing from John Sims Parkway to College Boulevard – Drivers will encounter the following traffic impacts the week of Sunday, May 21:
    • Daytime intermittent, north and southbound outside lane closures Monday, May 22 through Friday, May 26, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. for sidewalk repair and construction.
    • Intermittent north and southbound nighttime lane closures, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., for concrete removal at various locations.
  • Brooks Bridge Replacement Project – Drivers may experience intermittent U.S. 98 east and westbound lane closures, between Santa Rosa Boulevard and the Brooks Bridge approach on Okaloosa Island, Wednesday, May 24 and Thursday, May 25, between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. These closures are required to place low-profile barrier wall in the U.S. 98 median, which will require a slight shift of the U.S. 98 east and westbound travel lanes towards the outside of the roadway. The new configuration will have a minor reduction in lane width. Additionally, drivers may experience the following traffic impacts Sunday, May 21 through Thursday, May 25, from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. as crews perform utility work:
    • U.S. 98 east and westbound alternating and intermittent lane closures between Perry Avenue and Pier Road. 
    • Santa Rosa Boulevard east and westbound alternating lane closures from east of Amberjack Drive to Ross Marler Park. 
    • Intermittent shoulder closures on Brooks Street, between Perry Avenue and Florida Blanca Place, and on Business Access Road.
  • S.R. 85 Improvements from S.R. 123 to Hospital Drive – The week of Sunday, May 21, crews will require temporary, intermittent single-lane closures for the Shoal River Bridge, maintenance of shoulder drop-offs and to place sod. These lane closures will be limited to the following locations and times:
    • S.R. 85 northbound single-lane closures, between S.R. 123 and Shoal River Bridge, will only occur between 8 p.m. and 2 p.m.
    • S.R. 85 southbound single-lane closures, between Shoal River Bridge and S.R. 123, will only occur between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
  • U.S. 98 Bridge Rehabilitation over East Pass Bridge – Drivers may encounter intermittent single-lane closures on U.S. 98 over East Pass (Marler) Bridge, westbound structure (Destin to Fort Walton Beach), Monday, May 22 through Thursday, May 25, between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. The existing 35 mph speed limit will be maintained during construction.
  • Interstate 10 (I-10) at Antioch Road Interchange – Drivers may encounter nighttime closure of the I-10 outside eastbound travel lane, near mile marker 54, Sunday, May 21 through Thursday, May 25 from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Construction crews will be installing new guardrail.
  • I-10 Routine Bridge Maintenance over Shoal River – Motorists may encounter intermittent lane closures east of S.R. 85 Wednesday, May 24 from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. for routine bridge maintenance.

Walton County:

  • U.S. 98 Resurfacing from Village Road to East of U.S. 331 – Drivers will encounter the following traffic impacts the week of Monday, May 22:
    • Intermittent U.S. 98 east and westbound lane closures between 7:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. for paving operations.
    • Intermittent closures of the U.S. 98 east and westbound outside shoulders and turn lanes may be required as crews construct new sidewalks and widen existing turn lanes between Village Road and U.S. 331.
    • Temporary intermittent U.S. 98 east and westbound outside lane closures, from Village Road to Mack Bayou Road, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to deliver concrete for sidewalk, curb and gutter construction.
  • U.S. 98 Widening from Mack Bayou Road to County Road (C.R.) 30A – Drivers will encounter intermittent single-lane closures for the U.S. 98 east and westbound travel lanes, from West Hewitt Road to C.R. 30A, Monday, May 22 through Thursday, May 25 between 7:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. These closures are required to prepare for a slight shift of the U.S. 98 east and westbound travel lanes toward the outside of the roadway.
  • S.R. 20 Turn Lane Construction at J. W. Hollington Road – Drivers will encounter intermittent lane closures the week of Monday, May 22 for paving operations.

All activities are weather-dependent and may be delayed or rescheduled in the event of inclement weather. Drivers are reminded to use caution, especially at night, when traveling through a work zone and to watch for construction workers and equipment entering and exiting the roadway.


City of Fort Walton Beach hosts Ferry Park Neighborhood Traffic Study

City of Fort Walton Beach

The City of Fort Walton Beach has teamed up with Kimley-Horn & Associates to conduct a Community Workshop aimed at gathering valuable input from residents regarding concerns and transportation priorities within the Ferry Park Neighborhood.

  • The workshop is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, May 24, from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Public Works Field Office located at 7 Hollywood Blvd. N.W.

With a focus on engaging the community and fostering collaboration, the workshop seeks to encourage residents to actively participate in shaping the future of their neighborhood. The aim is to identify areas of concern and explore potential improvement alternatives as part of the ongoing Ferry Park Neighborhood Traffic Study.

Residents attending the workshop will have an opportunity to interact directly with the project team from Kimley-Horn & Associates. Their input will play a vital role in identifying specific locations within the neighborhood that require attention and suggesting potential solutions.

  • Looking ahead, the City plans to host a second community workshop at a later date. During this follow-up event, the results of the Ferry Park Neighborhood Traffic Study will be shared, providing context for any proposed improvements.

Seasonal road closures near Mid-Bay Bridge in Niceville starting this weekend

For the sixth year in a row, White Point Road and Lakeshore Drive will experience temporary closures to through traffic on Saturday afternoons, starting from May 27, 2023. These closures will remain in effect until September 2, 2023, occurring between approximately noon and 6 p.m.

This annual closure, which coincides with the Memorial Day to Labor Day period, aims to ensure traffic safety and alleviate congestion on White Point Road and Bluewater Bay, specifically caused by southbound tourism traffic diverting from State Road 293 through residential neighborhoods.

  • According to Okaloosa County, planning authorities have said that the start and end times are approximate, taking into account fluctuations in traffic volume.

In order to inform and guide all drivers, message boards will be placed along State Road 20 and State Road 293 to notify them about the temporary closures. Additionally, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s deputies will be actively managing the seasonal closure and diligently patrolling the area to ensure a smooth flow of traffic.


Choctaw’s Boys Relay Team and Long Jumper crowned State Champions at 3A FHSAA Finals

The Choctawhatchee High School track and field team made their mark at the FHSAA Outdoor State Finals 2023, held from May 17-20 at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, FL. The team showcased their prowess in various events, with standout performances that underscored their hard work and dedication.

The boys’ team was particularly impressive, with the 4 x 400 relay team of Kyler Collins, Kaleb Hollins, Cole Tabb, and Justin Whidbee clinching the state championship with a blistering time of 3:16.02. Their victory is a culmination of their teamwork and resilience that we have seen all year, as they outpaced formidable competitors from Rockledge and Miami Northwestern.

  • “We knew it was gonna be a tough race. It was gonna be close and then we did our thing. We came out with the dub [win],” said Justin Whidbee, reflecting on the team’s victory in an interview with FHSAA after the win.

Kaleb Hollinswho had just run and placed 3rd in the 800m with a time of 1:56.06, added, “We knew it was going to be a dog fight. I just had to stay in the pack or get us as close to first place as we possibly could. I was able to do that and hold.”

Kyler Collins, who took the baton from Hollins and gave the team the lead, said, “I just believed in the practice that I put in and I knew it was gonna be a dog fight, but I did what I had to do to get us up there.”

  • Cole Tabbthe anchor for the team, summed up the sentiment of the team, saying, “I knew it was going to be a fight. But I knew my boys’ were counting on me so I had to finish it for them.”

In the individual events, Isaiah Johnson earned 1st place in the long jump with a leap of 7.35m (24-1.5), showcasing his exceptional talent and skill. Trevon Tyson also put up a commendable performance in the 100m and 200m races, clocking times of 10.73 and 22.08 respectively.

The boys’ 4 x 100 relay team, consisting of Isaiah Johnson, Cole Tabb, Owen Burks, and Trevon Tyson, also made their presence felt, finishing 2nd with a time of 40.95. In the 4 x 800 relay, the team of Brendan Cutler, Zachary Brainerd, Zachary Smith, and Kaleb Hollins finished 9th with a time of 8:09.20.

In the field events, Chad Russell placed 14th in the high jump with a mark of 1.87m (6-1.5), while Ryan Seaton and Owen Burks placed 6th and 9th respectively in the triple jump with marks of 13.63m (44-8.75) and 13.46m (44-2). Owen Burks also competed in the javelin, placing 8th with a throw of 47.71m (156-6).

On the girls’ side, Hayley Boyle finishing 17th in 800m with a time of 2:24.33. The girls’ 4 x 100 relay team, consisting of Wynter Downs, Khamauri Hardy, Adriana Lampon, and Saniy Lindsey, clocked a time of 49.20, placing 13th. 

  • The girls’ 4 x 800 relay team, made up of Hayley Boyle, Brylie Kilgore, Chi Medina, and Isabel Harter, finished 12th with a time of 9:59.25.

The Choctawhatchee High School track and field team has indeed left an indelible mark at the FHSAA Outdoor State Finals 2023.

  • “Our coaching staff worked extremely hard to prepare our kids to win and place on the state podium and they went out there and shocked the whole state,” said Head Coach Courtland Fuller.

Record-breaking 24,699 lionfish removed during 2023 Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament

Lionfish caught during the Emerald Coast Open (Kevin Dukes)

This year’s Emerald Coast Open (ECO), the world’s largest lionfish tournament, removed a record-breaking 24,699 lionfish, marking a significant step in the fight against the invasive species that poses a major threat to native marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hosted by Destin-Fort Walton Beach and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the tournament took place from May 19-21, 2023 at the world-renowned HarborWalk Village and AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar. Scuba divers from all over came together to combat the lionfish threat, surpassing last year’s removal of 13,835 lionfish.

The lionfish, known for their venomous spines and destructive impact on native marine species, have become a formidable problem in the Gulf. The tournament offered divers a chance to aid in their removal while competing for nearly $125,000 in prize money in categories such as “most lionfish caught” and “largest and smallest lionfish.”

  • The team “Deepwater Mafia 1” clinched the title again for the most lionfish caught, bringing in 2,898 of the venomous creatures. Teams “Under Pressure” and “In the Clouds” followed closely, with 2,741 and 1,569 lionfish respectively.
  • In the size categories, “Dibs On Bottom” caught the largest lionfish, measuring a record-breaking 456mm (17.95 inches), while “Down N Out” snagged the smallest at 64mm (3.03 inches).

The lionfish guessing game returned this year, inviting participants aged 18 and older to estimate the total number of lionfish to be captured during the main event. After 715 total guesses, Rachelle Graves emerged victorious with an astonishingly close estimate of 19,461, winning the $1,000 prize.

The pre-tournament phase, which kicked off ahead of the main event, was dominated by Tim Shivers of DWM 1, who removed a whopping 1,056 lionfish.

Alex Fogg, Okaloosa’s Coastal Resource Manager, said that divers were able to start at first light on Friday and had to be done with diving by last light that day. The same thing happened again on Saturday. And while it made for a whirlwind of fish measuring, Fogg says it could not have been done without all the volunteers noting the rising lionfish numbers.

  • “We’ve noticed over the last six months that there’s been an increase in the numbers of lionfish on our local reefs,” he explained. “So we suspected that if the weather cooperated, we were going to see a lot of fish hit the docks.”

Leading up to the tournament was the Lionfish Restaurant Week, where local restaurants showcased lionfish in unique dishes. La Paz in Destin emerged as the Restaurant Week winner, impressing both customers and judges with their innovative lionfish-infused Mexican dishes and commitment to education about the lionfish invasion.

  • “The judges noted that their waiters and staff were on point with their education. The judges even said there was a band there that was playing and in between each song the singer was spouting out Lionfish facts,” said Fogg.

The tournament concluded with new records set for the largest lionfish caught

“The largest lionfish that had ever been caught in the Emerald Coast Open was 440 millimeters, and then this year, on the first day, that record was broken and then it got broken another four times throughout the duration of the event,” Fogg reported.

After a record-breaking weekend, Fogg expressed optimism for future tournaments, saying, “It’s going to be really hard to beat the success of this year’s Emerald Coast Open, but then again, I said the same thing in 2019 and we beat those numbers pretty handedly this year.”

Prior to this year, the Emerald Coast Open has removed 47,890 lionfish since the inaugural year (2019).

  • He added, “at the end of the day, the weather, the community sponsors, the participants, and the volunteers is what makes this whole thing work. We love to see the tons (literally) of lionfish out of the water and help our reefs before we go into the season and the heavy fishing season.”

OK, that’s all I have for you this morning! I hope you have a great Tuesday! And remember…the Heron Hunt is still going on and you could win $1,000. The contest ends on May 24, 2023.

p.s. What did you think of this morning’s newsletter? Hit the reply button and let me know!

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