CHIPLEY - A contingency clawback provision and repayment of an old debt are helping pave the way for Washington County to buy back one of the county's most marketable tracts of commercial property

Washington County Commissioners are preparing to buy back the approximate 70-acre site located north of Highway 90 at the intersection of Highway 273 and North Boulevard in Chipley known as the Washington County Industrial Park.

The effort comes years after Project Pipe failed to deliver on its promise to use $12.75 million in capital investment to construct a full-service manufacturing site for large concrete pipe and box culverts and bring more than 150 jobs with an estimated $5.1 million annual payroll to the county. Additional monies were also proposed to build a rail spur and industrial-grade road.

But while the failed project ultimately went down in local history as a "lesson learned," county officials say they are grateful the previous administration had the foresight to include the clawback and are taking advantage of what County Administrator Jeff Massey calls a "tremendous opportunity" buy setting the wheels in motions to buy back the property.

"(Reacquiring the industrial park) is going to mean great things from both a citizen and administrator standpoint because I think Washington County is in a lot better shape today than we were back then," Massey said. "Our economic developments efforts are more defined, more focused - and I think the outlook is very bright. We are all interested in jobs, while we don't yet know what kind of jobs it would bring, that area would certainly be a job producing site. It is a tremendous opportunity with tremendous potential."

Washington County Economic Development Council Chair Ted Everett says once the site is back under the county's ownership, it will be ready to market.

"(The site) has new water lines, a new road, natural gas, water, and sewer infrastructure, and two utility companies ready to serve it," said Everett.

Funds to buy back the industrial park are intended to come from revenue generated by the repayment of a $2.87 million loan to the county by Northwest Florida Community Hospital.

The hospital is making annual payments of $95,796 on the loan, which was established in 2013. In recent years, Washington County Commissioners agreed to earmark those payments for the purpose of economic development. That loan balance is currently estimated to be $2,682,286.

"The key is that we are being proactive and not reactive," said Massey. "Good things are coming to Washington County."