Atmore Man Killed In Single Vehicle Crash

October 6, 2015

A single vehicle accident north of Atmore claimed the life of an Atmore man Monday night.

According to Alabama State Troopers, 19-year old James Bradley Tolbert was killed when he was thrown from the bed of a pickup truck in which he was a passenger. He was pronounced deceased on the scene of the 8:45 pm. crash on Butler Street, about eight miles north of Atmore.

The driver of the 2003 Dodge Ram, 29-year old James Patrick Godwin of Atmore was not injured.

Further details have not been released as Alabama State Troopers continue their investigation.

Tate High Graduate Appears On ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’

October 6, 2015

Tate High School graduate Matthew Bailey appeared during ” on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” Monday night.  He didn’t bring home the million, but did win $20,000. Bailey is a 2013 honors graduate from Tate High School.  Images courtesy @MillionaireTV for, click to enlarge.

State Awards Century $50K for New Showalter Park Splash Pad

October 6, 2015

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has officially announced funding for a new splash pad in Century.

The $50,000 Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program grant to install a splash pad at Showalter Park was announced Monday. That amount will fund the installation of the watery playland, but not associated costs such was water and sewer.

At a July council meeting, Mayor Freddie McCall expressed concerns that the splash pad might cost the town too much to operate.

The splash pad that Century can afford won’t recycle water — that feature would cost the town another $50,000 plus, McCall said. The splash pad that Century can  purchase with grant money will use hundreds of gallons of water in just minutes. At an August council meeting, McCall said the cost to operate the splash pad could reach an affordable average of $184 per week — calculating water and sewer expenses at the town’s cost since they operate their own water and sewer system. The splash pad will not be operational during the colder months of the year.

In August, council voted to move forward, accepting the splash pad grand and agreeing to pay the water and sewer costs.

McCall said the town will also install a restroom near the splash pad at Showalter Park, next to new playground equipment recently installed with a previous state grant.

More than $5.4 million was announced Monday for 110 recreational development projects in local communities across the state. Century’s splash pad project was the only grant recipient in Escambia County. The competitive grant program provides state funds to develop lands for public outdoor recreational use, such as building or renovating sports facilities or playgrounds.

“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is committed to funding projects that directly benefit natural resources and local communities,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson. “This grant funding will support projects such as athletic fields, picnic facilities, fishing piers and playgrounds – projects that provide taxpayers additional recreational opportunities.”

Pictured: The Town of Century has been awarded a state grant to purchase this model splash pad. Courtesy images for, click to enlarge.

Court Reverses Course, Rules Against Slot Machines At Poarch Creek Track

October 5, 2015

In an unusual legal move that sent ripples throughout the state’s pari-mutuel industry, an appellate court reversed itself and decided that a Northwest Florida racetrack operated by the Poarch Creek Indians of Atmore` cannot have slot machines without the authorization of the Legislature.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, which sought a rehearing after a 2-1 ruling this spring in favor of Gretna Racing in Gadsden County.

As they did in the earlier opinion, the judges Friday asked the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue of whether pari-mutuels can have slot machines if local voters approve, or if the games require the express say-so of the Legislature.

Rehearings are commonly sought by lawyers on the losing sides of issues but are rarely granted.

The Gretna case is even more unusual because Judge Nikki Ann Clark, who joined Judge Robert T. Benton in May’s majority opinion, retired while the request for rehearing was pending. The May ruling would have given the small Northwest Florida facility permission to add slot machines after Gadsden County voters approved them.

The court decided against granting Bondi’s request for an “en banc,” or hearing before the full appeals court, in favor of a rehearing before a three-judge panel with a new member. Judge Ross L. Bilbrey on Friday joined the 32-page majority opinion authored by Judge Scott Makar, who wrote a scathing dissent in May.

The case hinges on a semantic analysis of a 2009 law establishing eligibility for slot machines at pari-mutuels. The 2009 law, which went into effect the following year, was an expansion of a 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment that authorized slot machines at seven existing horse and dog tracks and jai-alai frontons in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The 2009 change allowed a Hialeah track, which wasn’t operating at the time the amendment was approved, to also operate the lucrative slots. The law in question consists of three clauses, including one that deals with counties outside of Broward and Miami-Dade.

State regulators last year denied the Gretna racetrack a slots license, arguing the Department of Business and Professional Regulation was “not authorized to issue a slot machine license to a pari-mutuel facility in a county which … holds a countywide referendum to approve such machines, absent a statutory or constitutional provision enacted after July 1, 2010, authorizing such a referendum.” The agency justified its decision with a non-binding opinion by Bondi.

Lawyers for Gretna argued that the statute does not include the word “enacted,” and other counties do not need prior authorization from the Legislature to get the requisite voter approval for slots.

But, in Friday’s ruling, Makar wrote that Bondi’s interpretation of the law was “spot on.”

“The alternative view, which would restructure the statute and change its meaning to allow slot machines to be deployed on a statewide basis without any clear authority to do so, is inconsistent with principles of statutory and constitutional construction, legislative intent, and the history of laws prohibiting slot machines in the State of Florida,” he wrote.

Makar also raised the question of whether the Legislature has the authority to approve slot machines outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, based on a previous Florida Supreme Court ruling in a case known as “Greater Loretta.” That opinion, which dealt with an interpretation of Florida’s 1968 Constitution, found that “all other lotteries — including bolito, cuba, slot machines, etc., are prohibited.” Makar asked the Supreme Court for guidance.

“So which is it? Are slot machines a form of lottery that only the people may approve via constitutional amendment? Or are slot machines not prohibited as lotteries under (the state Constitution’s) article X, section 7, which may be legislatively authorized statewide without constitutional authority?” Makar wrote.

Makar also asked the court to settle the issue of the 2009 law. Voters in five other counties — Brevard, Lee, Hamilton, Palm Beach, and Washington — have also approved referendums authorizing slots at local pari-mutuels. State regulators have denied applications for slots in four counties, and the Palm Beach Kennel Club has an appeal pending. Tracks in Lee and Brevard counties are likely to appeal as well.

In an opinion concurring in part with Makar, Bilbrey wrote that he ended up on the three-judge panel thanks to “the luck of the draw.” The former Pensacola circuit judge joined the appeals court in January after being appointed by Scott.

Addressing the circumstances surrounding the rehearing, Bilbrey acknowledged that “the judgment of a retired colleague is entitled to some deference.” But, he wrote, “a successor judge is not required to always vote identically to the predecessor on rehearing.”

The Gretna facility, owned by the Poarch Creek Indians and a handful of investors, has been mired in controversy since its inception. Florida officials granted the track the country’s first pari-mutuel license for rodeo-style barrel racing, but a court later decided that gambling regulators erred when they awarded the license.

“We are disappointed with this reversal, and we look forward to a review from the Florida Supreme Court where we feel this issue will be resolved in our favor,” the tribe said in a statement following Friday’s ruling.

In his dissent Friday, Benton argued that gambling regulators’ interpretation of the law “would render superfluous the entire third clause” of the statute that deals with “any licensed pari-mutuel facility in any other county.”

The agency’s interpretation would mean that a referendum authorizing slots could only be held if the Legislature passed another law, Benton pointed out.

“But that was the status quo” before the 2009 law was enacted, Benton wrote. “There was no need or purpose in enacting a statutory provision to state the obvious,” he wrote.

David Romanik, a lawyer who represents Gretna and is a part owner of the facility, said he was disappointed in the court’s decision to “overrule its own very well-reasoned original opinion, but grateful that the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to review this issue of great statewide importance.”

But an association that represents horse breeders and trainers lauded the ruling.

“Justice has been served today in Florida. Simply, the 2012 Gadsden County slot referendum never should have been approved, inasmuch as it was based upon the pretext of ‘pari-mutuel barrel racing’ — the licensing of which was ultimately ruled in 2013 to be an overstep of regulatory authority,” Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association President Bill White said in a statement.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida, with contribution by

Jay Peanut Festival Draws Thousands (With Two Photo Galleries)

October 5, 2015

The annual Jay Peanut Festival attracted thousands to the Gabbert Farm Saturday and Sunday.

For more than 20 years, The Jay Peanut Festival at the Gabbert Farm has been a fall tradition on the Gulf Coast, showcasing the history, agriculture, food and fun of Santa Rosa County.  What started as a chance for local kids and farmers to show off their best of the season has become an annual event covering 15 acres and drawing about 70,000 people to the Gabbert farm over two days.

The event included tours of the 1930s Farm Museum, food booths, dozens of arts and crafts vendors, pony rides, games and fun.  The Jay Peanut Festival was also a chance to try all varieties of peanuts – boiled, green, fried, candied and more.

For a photo gallery, click here. Photos by Michael Pevahouse.

For a second photo gallery, click here. Photos by Michele Gibbs.

Pictured:  Lots of peanuts were available at the Jay Peanut Festival. Pictured below: Visitors stroll through vendor booths. Photos by Michael Pervahouse for, click to enlarge.

Over 100 RESTORE Project Ideas Submitted; Five Specifically Benefit North Escambia

October 4, 2015

Over 100 projects were submitted by the deadline to possibly receive a share of millions of dollars in RESTORE Act funding for Escambia County. The act provides for the allocation and use of funds gained through civil penalties from the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill.

While projects across Escambia County will receive equal consideration, only five projects specifically benefiting some portion of the North Escambia area (north of Muscogee Road) were submitted. Those projects were:

Century Water Quality Improvements — The project would install a lime addition system to lower the pH of the waste water discharged into the Escambia River. Aging lift stations and other portions of the sewage system would be replaced to prevent overflows and eventual infiltration into the Escambia River. The project would also include $198,000 requested by the town from the legislature and a loan of $30,000 to provide fire protection to the Carnley Road area.

Lambert Bridge Road –  The section of Lambert Bridge Roadd immediately north of the intersection of Pine Barren Creek (approx. 1/2 mile) has been a source of sedimentation into Pine Barren Creek for many years. This section of road needs to be graded and paved with stabilization of associated ditches to prevent sedimentation of Pine Barren Creek. The section of this road south of the creek was addressed in the same manner a number of years ago.

Cantonment Sportsplex - The project would include the complete restoration of the Cantonment Sportsplex to provide a park offering multiple sports outlets to all youth and families in Cantonment and surrounding areas.

Cantonment Community Center – The project would include a community center for the Cantonment CRA as identified in the Cantonment Redevelopment Plan adopted by the Escambia County Commission in early 2014. The multi-function community center would serve as a job training center, library, adult education center, center for tutoring, senior citizens center, recreation center and housing assistance center.

Cottage Hill Water Works Infrastructure Update and System Improvements –  This proposed project would include the replacement of approximately four miles of existing asbestos concrete water main (located on Williams Ditch Road, Phalrose Lane, Highway 95A, Welcome Road and from two wells out to Williams Ditch Road.  The project would also include the construction of a new well and storage tank on the northwest end of the franchise near the Central Commerce Park for future growth. There are currently three wells on the system, but one is reaching the end of its useful life.

The Escambia County RESTORE Advisory Committee will meet Tuesday, October 20, at 4 p.m. in the BCC Chambers, 221 Palafox Place, to discuss the 123  submitted projects and the next step in the process. The public is invited and encouraged to attend. The Committee is tasked with reviewing projects and submitting recommendations to the Escambia Board of County Commissioners for consideration.

Pictured top: A RESTORE project information meeting held recently in Cantonment. file photo, click to enlarge .Pictured inset: This map shows the location of submitted RESTORE projects in Escambia County.