Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida Job Growth Grant Fund – Surplus?
Next: Murphy May Ask for "the Sky"

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  At last Wednesday's February 7 Economic Development Advisory Board meeting, the conversation continued regarding Weyerhaeuser's former Plum Creek North Florida Mega Industrial Park, once known as the Inland Port. On February 6 the Governor announced that Columbia County was awarded $3,165,600 from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, a legislated pool of $85 Mil that is controlled by Governor Scott. There are many that consider this the Governor's economic development slush fund.

The $3.1 Mil award is funneled through a Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) Grant. The purpose of Columbia County's grant is to build a rail spur through the National Forest from the CSX rail to the formerly Plum Creek Inland Port. The project included a Hwy. 90 crossing.

See: State to Pay $3mil for Rail Spur to Former Inland Port

The rail will not go into the Mega Park, but right to the front door. Any other future rail construction will be in the privately owned industrial park, which has a County owned and maintained road running through it, about .75 mile from the rail entrance. Financing and timelines for the rail extension into the park have not been determined.

February 6
The County 5 & Top Brass Hustled to Jax

The day before the EDAB meeting, February 6, the County 5 & County top brass hustled over to Jacksonville to hear the Governor announce the grant award and get their photos taken with him.

During the February 7 County Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) meeting, County Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter mentioned the just funded rail spur, "This is probably one of the biggest events for us... getting the rail. This has taken approximately eight years. In relation to that, Mr. Murphy you had a conversation with the Governor, yesterday."

Chairman Murphy: "Send Some Projects ... Ask for the sky"

There were hundreds of projects that were rejected by Governor Scott. It is not clear what happens to those projects and the DEO web site does not explain if they are still on the list if funding becomes available.

Slush fund or not, no one is discounting that Columbia County was fortunate to be chosen for the grant.

However, according to Chairman Murphy, a budding politician whose sights are set down the road, there is money left over.

Mr. Murphy explained his meeting with the Governor. The usually long winded Murphy was short and to the point. [as spoken]

Mr. Murphy: "What he enticed us to do -- there's money left in this -- 30 somethin' million dollars I think the number was, left in this particular fund, so he encouraged us to immediately send some projects over there. Hopefully they run it through this budget cycle.

He elaborated us -- you know -- sounded to me like they weren't expectin' that kinda' money to be left over, so he encouraged us to -- and we sittin' there discussing it there with em' kinda come to the assumption that -- you know -- we got the rail to the property line -- Weyerhaeuser to my understanding is working on the road design plan, so do an estimated value on it and at least either expand utilities in there or the road or we'll ask for the sky and hopeful we'll get somethin'."

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