After Hurricane Michael ripped through the panhandle last year it left much of the area battered and beaten. One of the most impacted counties is Bay, where Tyndall Air Force Base is located. The base suffered nearly $5 billion in damage. But officials at the base used the disaster as a chance to rebuild for the future. Their hope was that the Air Force would bring in F35 fighter jets and that plan has now paid off.
Officials at Tyndall Air Force Base started working toward recovery right away. Most of the early stages involved demolishing or repairing damaged buildings. Executive Director of the base’s reconstruction program, Brigadier General Patrice Melancon, says there’s still more to be done.
"So we do have some demolition that is still is ongoing, and still needs to be done," says Melancon. "We’ve moved forward we’re partnering with the Core of Engineers for the military construction work and have actually got design firms on board to start doing design work on those military construction projects."
In April, Brigadier General Melancon said they had already spent $300 million on demolition and repairs. They had run out of money and had to wait for supplemental funding. That eventually came in June in the form of a disaster relief bill which included $1.67 million in funding for the Air Force, but not all of it was for Tyndall.
"Unfortunately Tyndall was not the only base that was affected by natural disasters," explained Melancon. "So we got about I think it was $550 million roughly what we’re going to get from the FY19 [fiscal year 2019] supplemental."
That $550 million helps out but Melancon says the project will definitely need more.
"We’ve got like I said $2.8 billion worth of military construction that’s identified," said Melancon.
One of the reasons for the high costs is that Tyndall isn’t just rebuilding but redesigning the layout of the base. Officials decided to go with a design that would work for the future. The hope was that in doing so the Air Force would move F35 jets to the base. And this week that happened. Tuesday the Interim Secretary for the Air Force announced he is committed to bringing three F35 jets to Tyndall by 2023.
"Certainly having the F35s there is going to enhance the overall training that’s able to be done for the Air Force as a whole, not just for Tyndall," said Melancon.
Melancon says the news isn’t only great for what the future holds but also for the sake of the rebuild.
"We will continue going full speed down the path that we have been going down already. The good news is that we didn’t have to go potentially rework some things if the decision had come out otherwise," said Melancon.
Meanwhile, Melancon says base officials are holding another Industry Day September 12 in an effort to secure the needed workers for the project and make sure the surrounding community is on board.
"That particular Industry Day is going to focus on construction and construction logistics.as you can probably imagine doing that much construction work in one area and also having construction work going on downtown," said Melancon. "We’re a little worried about being able to effectively find the labor force that we need to do all that construction and not compete and prevent downtown from being able to come back with their construction."
As for funding the rest of the project Melancon says the base will have to wait until Congress and the Air Force decide how much Tyndall will get in fiscal year 2020.