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Okaloosa scraps plans for new jail on Highway 90 site in Crestview

The Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners held a regular meeting Tuesday to discuss potentially purchasing a 70-acre parcel of land along Highway 90 near the Shoal River Ranch county development. The […]

Okaloosa County

The Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners held a regular meeting Tuesday to discuss potentially purchasing a 70-acre parcel of land along Highway 90 near the Shoal River Ranch county development.

  • The property, located at 3985 Highway 90 East, was previously the site of the Shoal River Sporting Clays and Shooting Center. It has been on the market and listed at a purchase price of $1.2 million.

The initial intent was for the property to be an “ideal location” for constructing the new Okaloosa County Correctional Facility, according to Deputy County Administrator Craig Coffey. Factors for this property including the size, infrastructure, and ability to buffer made it a prime consideration.

However, pushback from economic development prospects and surrounding residents regarding the property’s use as a jail site led to removing that option from the agenda item ahead of the meeting. County staff suggested the land still has potential for other public uses that the Board may want to consider purchasing it for.

The property consists of two parcels totaling about 68 acres, with 50 net usable acres, according to county analysis. It has water, sewer and fiber accessibility. There is also future potential to utilize nearby planned infrastructure at the Shoal River Ranch county development across Highway 90.

With the jail option off the table, some possible alternative uses for the property discussed were realigning the intersection of Mt. Olive Road and Jericho Road nearby, providing stormwater capacity for future Highway 90 widening projects, having space for a memorial for fallen Sheriff’s deputies killed at the property (Deputies Skip York and Burt Lopez were killed in the line-of-duty), and controlling the gateway appearance entering the Shoal River Ranch development area.

Prior to the discussion, the Board took comments from local residents and community members regarding the property and a new jail site. Common concerns raised were lack of public input, having a jail near residential areas and deterring economic growth in the expanding corridor along Highway 90.

But a new jail will have to be built at some point and the county will have to find a suitable location. As noted and said many times in many meetings, the current facility is old and dated, it is overcrowded and both the employees and inmates need a better environment.

  • “Ultimately a jail is going to have to be built,” Commissioner Nathan Boyles said. “The facility that we have is outdated. It creates some real challenges for the employees that have to work in that facility and for the folks that get incarcerated there.” 

Boyles emphasized the county’s responsibility for public safety requires having an adequate jail facility. However, he acknowledged the frustration expressed regarding the selection process. “I think this was one of those situations where we got running a little bit too fast and stumbled,” Boyles stated.

  • According to Boyles, the commission needs guidance on a comprehensive analysis to identify and evaluate all feasible alternative locations. He said the goal should be selecting the “least worst decision” for the necessary new jail after fully assessing options that minimize negative impacts.

Commissioner Paul Mixon also called for creating a designated site selection process for the jail location that would bring back recommendations for the Board to consider.  “If we could take this next step forward and create a site selection process, and that could mirror how we make large purchases,” he stated.

The goal would be bringing back recommendations meeting appropriate criteria. “That could have better buy in from the public,” Mixon said regarding a more robust procedure for presenting options, “but like I said, there’s no discussion without an item.”

Multiple commissioners said they do not support purchasing the Highway 90 property. 

  • Commissioner Mel Ponder cited no clear county vision or return on investment for acquiring the land.
  • Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel raised ethical concerns over potential involvement of a former commissioner brokering the deal. Ketchel reiterated the need for a new jail facility, saying “We do need a new jail. I’m 100 percent for a new jail.”
  • Board Chairman Trey Goodwin said his initial reaction to a jail at the location was “a resounding no go.” However, he expressed potential interest if the property was purchased for other uses like road realignment and stormwater infrastructure.

County staff was tasked with researching options for a committee to review jail site selection procedures and report back to the Board on recommendations.

The current purchase contract extension on the Highway 90 property remains in place. No final decision was made Tuesday whether to officially move forward with buying the land.

3 Responses

  1. As a resident of the Mt Olive area, the neighborhood is EXTREMELY opposed to a jail in this location. How about going west on hwy90? There are many areas to build a new giant jail. Has the county looked into this area?

  2. Dear commissioners, how about building another high school somewhere in south Crestview instead. Do something good for people for once.

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