The impersonal wording of the Florida Legislature’s appropriations process can sometimes obscure the fact that there are some worthwhile and beneficial local projects behind the arcane language. That’s certainly the case this year with an otherwise easily overlooked water and sewer expansion proposal for the small city of DeFuniak Springs in Walton County.
The local requests contained in “HB 9255 DeFuniak Springs Coy Burgess Loop Watermain Upgrades” and “HB 9257 DeFuniak Springs CR 280B Water and Sewer Expansion” don’t sound particularly impressive as they await consideration by the House Appropriations Committee. However, the new water lines they would provide are absolutely essential to open Veterans Lodge, a new facility that will serve about 14,000 area veterans throughout a 125-mile region of Northwest Florida.
Veterans Lodge – a donor-funded nonprofit – envisions transforming a 200-acre tract of land on the southeast corner of I-10 and Highway 331 into a veteran-focused mixed-use development offering single-family homes, apartments, job retraining facilities, retail, restaurants, and other businesses. At its flagship location in DeFuniak Springs, Veterans Lodge will be a tremendous asset for Northwest Florida’s large population of active and retired military members. The objective is to provide veterans with comprehensive rehabilitation and treatments, post-secondary education opportunities, workforce training, job placement, and holistic family therapy.
But to accomplish that important goal for men and women who served our nation, Veterans Lodge first needs water lines. State Representative Brad Drake and State Senator George Gainer answered the call, shepherding a low-profile request for local water infrastructure through the appropriations process. On its face, this type of investment seems to be exactly what lawmakers look for when investing in local communities – for a little more than $2 million for infrastructure, they get a return in jobs and economic development that will benefit Walton County and provide a huge and much-needed benefit for veterans and their families.
With lawmakers, lobbyists, and the media focused on the big-ticket, policy-heavy priorities of a $92-billion state budget, a local project of this size can easily be missed. But that doesn’t make it any less important, especially to those who have already given so much to serve their country.