By GARY PINNELL
Published: July 30, 2008
SEBRING - A week after Seth Ellis proposed a live-fire training center near Venus, the Marion County Commission turned down a combined law enforcement and search-and-rescue facility near Ocala.
More than 200 residents packed the auditorium for the commissioner's meeting, according to a July 16 story in the Star-Banner.
Ocala Lumber President Henry J.G. Moxon tried to withdraw his application for a special use permit, but the commissioners refused his request and voted to turn down the facility, which would have a mile-long airstrip, rifle ranges, explosive storage, a vehicle track and an indoor shooting range on 2,500 acres currently zoned for agriculture use.
Moxon did not provide Marion County with details on which agencies would train there, or why aircraft would be operating there.
"That won't be very similar to what we have planned," Ellis said. "We don't have a mile-long airstrip."
His plans do include a 5,500-foot runway.
"But it may not be blacktopped," Ellis said. "It may be shell or something."
On July 15, Ellis proposed to build the Eagle National Security Training Center on 7,700 acres, near the Highlands-Glades county line.
In a written statement, Eagle proposed to locate a "first responder" facility on Southern Farms, and requested the Highlands County staff to expedite the permitting.
"Expedited permitting allows a development to speed up the state of Florida, DEP, Water Management District, etc. review process, and perhaps the county review process, said the agenda item, signed by Highlands County's chief planner, Jim Polatty, and County Administrator Michael Wright.
The resolution the county commissioners adopted said the Eagle Center would provide at least 100 full-time jobs after year three of operations, and up to 240 jobs after year five. Ellis told the commissioners the jobs could start with 250, and total 1,000.
Ellis is a CPA and the former president and CEO of ICx Digital Infrared Imaging, sensors which detect chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive weapons. He sold the company to ICx Technologies Inc. of Arlington, Va. Ellis is also a partner with GatorMezz, a fund that loans money to medium-sized, Florida-based companies.
Ellis said he was back in Highlands County last week to look over Southern Farms. Ron Eagle hired Sunshine Management, a company co-owned by Ellis, Gen. Paul Serjan and others, to plan, develop and operate the Venus project.
"We toured the property," said Ellis, speaking from a Washington airport. "We stayed at Inn on the Lakes, and had a little strategy session."
They also sketched plans for the 7,700 acres. Next, Ellis said, he must conclude financing for the project.
How much will it cost?
"A lot of zeros," Ellis said. $10 million? $100 million?
Ellis wouldn't be pinned down. "But you were a lot closer on the second figure."
Each of the five county commissioners was also contacted by the generals, said Don Bates and Edgar Stokes.
Both commissioners said they favor facility.
"So far, I'm for it," Stokes said. "It's a good thing for the county. They'll do a lot of business with the county. They'll create a lot of jobs. It's a pretty big thing. And it's way out there in the corner of the county, so it shouldn't bother anybody."
Gary Pinnell can be reached at email@example.com or 863 386-5828
The links to other articles about this topic:
Training Center project grounded, but expected to fly
County tries to resolve Eagle Center snafu
Venus neighbors to protest war games facility
Commissioners suspend Eagle training discussion
County OKs expediting permit process for Eagle National July 16 2008
Commissioners direct staff to work out training center plan
Possible zoning issues for Eagle Training Center
Training center foes speak to commission