After hosting two town halls and meeting with concerned citizen groups and elected leaders for nine months, officials here submitted the waterways security proposal to the Army Corps of Engineers, which will publish the proposal for public comment in the upcoming months.
"We have worked diligently to hear the concerns of our neighbors in Bay County through several venues," said Col. Christopher Holmes, 325th Mission Support Group commander. "The feedback provided over the last several months assisted us in developing a strong proposal, which allows us to protect our people and assets during a threat and still allow everyone to enjoy what makes Bay County such a great place."
In addition to conversations with elected officials at the local and national level, Tyndall met twice with the concerned group of local boaters known as Friends of Shell Island on base and hosted two town hall meetings in the community that had a combined attendance of more than 150 local citizens and elected leaders. The base also placed a copy of the presentation online, which received more than 200 views.
Multiple classified security assessments conducted at Tyndall identified a "major concern" regarding the 129 miles of coastline surrounding the base. That identification prompted base officials to develop a plan for mitigating threats to that coastline. The original version of the plan, after being briefed to more than a dozen civic groups, included closing four areas around the base permanently. Several months passed after the base submitted the previous proposal before that version was posted on the Army COE website for comment. Public feedback in June 2013 raised concerns over the language and restriction of access to the waters and bayous surrounding Tyndall prompting officials to rescind the proposal with the intent to reexamine the plan.
"We felt there was enough confusion and concern over the proposal to seek feedback from our community where we live, work and play," said Maj. Anthony McCarty, 325th Security Forces Squadron commander, who hosted both town hall meetings and two separate press conferences on the proposal.
Each meeting brought the base closer to the delicate balance between community concerns and base security, officials said.
The changes made include removing the four permanently restricted areas and placing up to a 500 foot temporary buffer around only the threatened coastline in the event of a security threat as deemed credible by wing commander based on recommendations of the Tyndall Threat Working Group, a group of subject matter experts.
These security buffer zones around the installation would not be unique to Tyndall. According to McCarty, MacDill AFB in Tampa, Fla., Eglin AFB in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and NSA Panama City all currently enforce similar security zones.
Also, the base added a clause allowing individuals the ability to petition the wing commander to have access to the area during a security threat, McCarty said. He added this would be handled on a case by case basis and balanced against the safety of all parties including our neighbors in Bay County during the threat.
A meeting with the Friends of Shell Island in late 2013 prompted officials to review the language concerning Tyndall Security Forces asking boaters for identification. Now, boaters will no longer be required to furnish identification.
A change to the proposal after the December 2013 town hall at Gulf Coast State College creates a mechanism for ensuring a constant re-evaluating of the threat every 48 hours by the Threat Working Group.
"Should a threat arise," McCarty said, "that Tyndall Threat Working Group would work with local law enforcement agencies. The group would take a look at that threat, analyze it and decide the best mitigating actions to reduce that threat. If the best mitigating actions were a temporary restriction of that threatened area, they would present this to the wing commander and reconvene at least every two days to ensure this action is still required."
During the restriction, all persons, military and civilian, will be asked to leave the affected water area.
The last step before submitting was to meet one-on-one with Bay County Commissioners at their request and answer additional questions.
Concerned citizens will still be able to comment on the plan when the Army COE publishes the document. The public comment period will last for 30 days.
"Last time, we submitted the proposal there was a delay in publishing," said McCarty. "We have learned from that, and this time, we will continue working to explain the plan to those with questions and concerns via articles and media appearances."
The comments will then be submitted back to Tyndall for review and consideration.
"We are required to respond to the comments," said LTV. Col. Julie Rutherford, 325th Fighter Wing staff judge advocate.
The plan's temporary restrictions are similar to those already in place utilized during 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group sub-scale aerial target launches.
"Day to day nothing would change, and we hope to never enact any part of the plan," McCarty said.
McCarty clarified this plan addresses only the 10 mile portion of the popular recreation area of Shell Island that falls under the jurisdiction of Tyndall AFB. Not affected in any way are the seven miles of state managed property of Shell Island and the three-mile portion of St. Andrews State Park that lies close to Tyndall.
The Tyndall website will post the link to the Army's COE page when the proposal is published for public comment on their site. Please check www.tyndall.af.mil for updates.
To view the first town hall meeting, click here.
To view the draft proposal that was submitted to the Army COE, click here.
Information provided by 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs