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Residents sign up to oppose "Bo's" bridge

Gulf Breeze residents delivered petitions with 1,100 signatures to the state Department of Environmental Regulation Monday, demonstrating their opposition to a Santa Rosa County bridge.

The petitions were delivered to DER headquarters by Bob Newton, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, and H. W. "Hank" Steadman, a retired Marine Corps colonel.

DER Secretary Virginia Wetherell said later she read a cover letter explaining the residents' opposition and found their objections were mostly on economic grounds, not environmental.

"I think the message from the petition is a number of people are opposed to the bridge," she said. Opponents say the proposed two-lane toll bridge will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion between Gulf Breeze and Pensacola.

The path of the bridge was set in legislation sponsored by House Speaker Bo Johnson, D-Milton, in 1984. He says he supports the bridge because the Santa Rosa County Commission and his constituents favor it.

Newton and Steadman are out to show that most residents of Gulf Breeze oppose the project. After a brief story appeared in a local newspaper about their opposition, 60 residents showed up at a local restaurant to volunteer. They gathered 1,100 signatures during two weekends at shopping centers in Gulf Breeze, population 5,740.

Environmentalists opposed the bridge on the grounds that it would pollute Pensacola Bay, damage a valuable shellfish habitat and harm a vast wetland prairie that taxpayers bought to preserve. The Santa Rosa Bay Bridge Authority has agreed to buy 800 acres of wetlands and improve storm water runoff treatment to mitigate environmental damage.

The bridge authority has received a sixth time extension to meet the DER's objections. Wetherell said the department usually grants extensions as long as an applicant is making progress toward receiving a permit. Newton and Steadman say they will use the extra time to continue their group's efforts against the bridge.

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