Gulf drilling at issue as military spending bill reaches the finish line

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Military supporters and those who want more oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico are closely watching the US Senate as a military spending bill heads for a vote.

The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act expires in two years. If it is allowed to expire those who wish to drill for oil in the Gulf will no longer have to work around the longstanding restrictions that prevented them from drilling along the Air Force testing range.

Supporters say the range, which stretches from The Panhandle to The Keys, is one of the main reasons why Florida has 21 military bases.

“It ensures all of the missions in our bases will not be encroached by oil drilling activity,” said Tom Neubauer, the President Bay Defense Alliance.

 The act, known as the GOMESA, is supported by military leadership, Neubauer added, and Florida’s political leadership including Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rep. Neal Dunn, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Rick Scott. Gaetz and Dunn worked together this year to make sure the restriction was in the military spending bill when it passed The House.

The bill is expected to head to the Senate floor in the next two weeks.

Other items in the bill include:

  • $15 million for the Gulf Range Modernization and the next phase in the Gulf Test Range telemetric modernization process,
  • $83.1 million for military construction; $44.8 million to build a Special Operations Forces Special Tactics Operations Facility; and $38.3 million to build a Special Operations Forces Combat Aircraft Parking Apron at Hurlburt Field.
  • Guidance on the continuing reconstruction of Tyndall Air Force Base. ($3 billion for the reconstruction has already been approved.)
  •  Transfers 1.23 acres of land from the Department of the Interior to the Secretary of the Navy.

“The Joint Gulf Range Complex is critical to our national security and military readiness, and I was proud to secure funds in this year’s NDAA that will ensure the next phase of the Gulf Range Modernization continues,” Rubio said in a news release. “I also remain committed to ensuring Tyndall Air Force Base makes a full recovery from the damages suffered as a result of Hurricane Michael.”

The land being transferred to the Navy will eventually be transferred to Bay County, Neubauer said.

Naval Support Activity Panama City is giving the land to the county after the county paid $2.9 million for 8.3 acres of land near the edge of the Base along Thomas Drive several years ago.

County officials said this move to give land to the county unrelated to the land the county secured for the base.

“We appreciate working with the Department of the Navy and General Services Administration on the transition of this property to the county,” Bay County Manager Bob Majka said. “We look forward to making this a great resource for the community.”

The county will take this land, near Surf Drive and the base and use it to expand a public beach access point. County officials said they are going to create a parking lot and beach access that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It makes the public beach access a little bit bigger than it was,” Neubauer said. “And everybody wins.” 

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