County secures option to buy more than 1,600 acres

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TONY JUDNICH @Tonyjnwfdn

CRESTVIEW — The Okaloosa County Commission recently approved an option agreement to buy up to 1,665 acres of Shoal River Ranch land for potential economic development.

The option is for three years, includes the ability to obtain a one-year extension and allows the county to purchase all or any part of the acreage involved. Shoal River Ranch, located just east of Crestview, is owned by the Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation of Boise, Idaho.

The ranch encompasses about 10,500 acres, with 6,850 acres north of Interstate 10 and 3,650 acres south of the highway. The parcels are connected by a state-maintained overpass.

About 2,043 acres of the ranch are available for industrial development, according to the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County.

The valuation of all or part of the 1,665 acres that the county could buy would be determined by averaging various appraisals.

“In consideration for the granting of the option, the county would grant to the Foundation the timber and pine straw rights on Stand 1 and 2 of property owned by the county for the benefit of the Water and Sewer Department,” county officials said in a report for the Dec. 5 commission meeting.

Stand 1 covers about 96 acres and Stand 2 encompasses about 55 acres. The Foundation retains the right to grow and harvest timber and pine straw at its sole discretion, but not to replant trees, according to the option agreement.

A one-year extension on the option would be granted provided that the extension of water and sewer lines to Jericho Road is 80 percent completed and the county has received a non-binding letter of intent from an economic development prospect seeking to use the land.

County Attorney Greg Stewart told the commission that, “We have the ability within this option to assign it. If we have an economic development prospect that becomes available to developing that area, the concept is that we would assign this option to them, and they would be the actual person who would acquire this property, depending on their particular needs.”

Nathan Sparks, executive director of the EDC, said he and Stewart began negotiating the option agreement with the Foundation several months ago.

“You all know that we’ve had some near misses (or potential development opportunities that fell through) at Shoal River Ranch in the past,” Sparks told commissioners. “And one of the big challenges we’ve had, of course, is a lack of infrastructure.”

He then praised commissioners for seeking Triumph funding to extend infrastructure, such as water lines, down U.S. Highway 90 to the ranch.

Commissioner Nathan Boyles said the option agreement doesn’t guarantee economic development will occur at the ranch.

“But this positions us as well as we can possibly be positioned for the next three years to go and pursue those opportunities,” he said. “I look forward to that process and working with the EDC to try and actually land some type of good job creator out there for our citizens.”

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