County gets on same page to win emergency center

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Williston Airport is favored location

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Levy County is getting its act together to persuade Progress Energy to construct its new emergency operations facility in the county.

The facility would serve as the emergency operations center for the proposed two-unit Levy County plant during times when there are problems and the company, state and federal officials need to gather, said Suzanne Grant, a spokeswoman for Progress.

She said there is a similar facility for the Crystal River plant, but that emergency operations center also serves as a training center and simulator for the Crystal River plant.

The facility being discussed by Levy County officials would be just an emergency operations center with meeting rooms and offices, and computers to access the systems at the Inglis plant.

Levy County officials said Progress was looking to locate the emergency operation plant at least 10 miles from the Inglis plant, something that must be done unless the building has shielding and air filtering systems in the event of a problem at the plant. Such shielding and filtering would add to the construction cost of the facility.

Mark Johnson, director of Levy County Emergency Services, learned about the possible location of the center during a recent training with Progress Energy officials.

Johnson says this center could be bigger and could benefit the whole county, especially if Progress decides to co-locate its training and simulator at the same site, rather than just having a training center as planned near the plant.

“It’s a big juicy, fat target,” Johnson told Levy County department heads during a meeting last week. “To bring in a joint emergency training center, a lot of people will be fighting to get that.”

The county’s main competition for the facility would be Citrus County, home to the Crystal River plant, and Marion County.

Grant said an emergency facility would only employ a handful of employees. One public official said if the training center came along, there would be more permanent positions and the hope that support jobs would be added to the local economy. 

Johnson told a meeting of Levy County department heads last week that one advantage for Levy is the airport at Williston, which has a 7,000-foot long airstrip.

Mark Schiefer, finance director for the city of Williston, said the airport “could land a 727, a rather large plane.”

The airport’s ability to land planes like 707s and 727s, which would be bringing in emergency management and operations personnel, and equipment to handle any emergency at the plants.

In addition, the city owns enough land surrounding the airport to offer a good location for the facility.

The city’s industrial park, with utility services already built in, is located by the airport and would be a plus in the campaign to win the facility. Schiefer also noted that the city is “not necessarily in the flood plain.”

Schiefer said Williston City Manager Marcus Collins, who is on vacation this week, has been working with Levy County Commissioner Danny Stevens on the effort to win the facility’s location in Levy and, in particular, in Williston.

Stevens said having U.S. Highways 41 and 27, and State Road 121 in the Williston area are a plus for winning the 20,000 to 25,000 square foot facility.

Schiefer said an incentive plan has not been discussed to lure the facility, noting it could come at some future time. “We want to put together an incentive plan,” he said. “It could be similar to ad valorem tax breaks.” He said the city could also sweeten the land-lease deal, but it must show the federal Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration that the airport is self-supporting, so the land lease world not be a “$1 for 99-years” type of deal.

For now, Johnson is “trying to get everybody on board on the same page.”

Williston could also see location of a facility where emergency operations training would be done as a plus in attracting a motel or extended stay company to the city. Currently, the city’s only lodging is one motel and an RV park.

Otherwise, anyone traveling into the area for the facility would be staying in Ocala, which is about 25 miles away or Gainesville, which is 18 miles away.

“That would be high on our priority list,” Schiefer said. “There have been some discussions in the past with various establishments. Given the last couple of years, it’s very much needed and would be successful here.”

  Stevens said he inherited his role in the campaign to get the facility after Commission Chairman Sammy Yearty was suspended from office because of a federal corruption indictment.

He said Yearty had been working with Danny Roderick, the head of Progress Energy’s Levy County nuclear plant program, on obtaining the facility for Levy. But Roderick has left Progress to work for General Electric. Roderick has not been replaced, but Progress has an interim management team on the Levy project.

“They were the two working on this. Now there’s been other people taking their places,” Stevens said. “We’re trying to rekindle relationships there.”

Stevens said he is not expecting immediate results. “It’s way to premature for anything at this point,” Stevens said. “All we know is it’s not supposed to go at the site for the nuclear power plant.”

Stevens said Johnson and the county’s department heads are meeting to make sure the county puts forth a coordinated effort to win the facility.

“The idea behind this is if we’re the site for the nuclear power plant, we want everything else that goes with it (Levy Plant) too, because Citrus has everything that goes with it (Crystal River) too.”