Repairs at Tyndall Air Force Base will stop May 1 without disaster aid funds

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Tyndall Air Force base was badly damaged in Hurricane Michael. The Air Force says the base will be rebuilt as the "installation of the future," but that takes money.

The base is currently using funds from the Air Force to rebuild, but that is scheduled to run out this week. If that happens, rebuilding will stop without additional disaster aid from Congress.

"It's different looking around, and there's no trees on this base. There's no shade," said Colonel Brent Hyden, director of the Tyndall project management for reconstruction. "There's a lot of buildings frankly that are down on the ground."

The base was slammed by Hurricane Michael more than six months ago. Almost every single building on the base sustained damage, about half of the facilities were damaged beyond repair.

The Air Force is looking at the destruction as a unique opportunity to rebuild what they call the installation of the future.

"This is the first time in my lifetime, in my career in the Air Force that we have this opportunity to put in this level of infrastructure of new infrastructure, and do it right," said Hyden.

The new design will have an open campus for the airmen and feature cutting edge technologies and a digitally integrated airbase. Hyden said that will take five to seven years to rebuild and a lot of money

"So the truth here is that the Air Force has, the airforce does not have any supplemental money for Tyndall. The Air Force has been taking money from other construction requirements around the world to feed into Tyndall. That's painful for the Air Force and there's a lot of mission impacts everywhere else," he said.

Hyden said at some point the Air Force can't give anymore from other missions, and the money from the airforce will run out.

"The date that the airforce leadership has identified is the first of May."

On that day, rebuilding efforts there will stop unless Congress passes a supplemental disaster aid bill, and that doesn't just impact the base.

The Bay Area Defense Alliance says Tyndall Air Force base contributes to about one-third of the local economy in Bay County.

Several attempts to pass a disaster funding bill have died in Congress. The stalemate in Congress has stopped billions of dollars in disaster aid meant for victims of hurricanes, floods, and wildfires across the country.

Mexico Beach still may not have a working gas station or grocery store, but their beaches work just fine.

"We're here, our beaches are beautiful and clean. We don't try to sugar coat what we have here," said Mexico Beach Mayor, Al Cathey.

Cathey said tourism is not at its usual levels, but tourists are still coming to enjoy the beaches.

But some locals aren't enjoying them.

"It has been chaos, a lot of road rage, a lot of tourists coming through, slowing down to take pictures, kind of gawking at where we live. You know, it's your home," said Chelsea Caudill, a Port St. Joe resident.

Caudillo lives in Port St. Joe with her family. She says the homeowners are tired and just want to focus on rebuilding without the tourists this year.

But businesses say they need the tourists.

"We thrive off of tourists, that's where our money is," said Courtney Huff who works at Mango Marley's, one of the first restaurants to open back up in Mexico Beach. "For businesses like us, you know we need tourists. Plus it's going to help us get the town back together quicker."

The tourism director of Mexico Beach said they are marketing for tourism this season, but it's about finding the right balance and finding the right tourists.

"It's more so those who have been to Mexico Beach for the 20 and 30 and 40 generation families that have been coming here, and they are a part of our rebuilding story. Those who want to genuinely come and support Mexico Beach, and understand that we don't look like what we did last year, but it's okay because we will get back to that," said Kimberly Shoaf, the president of the Mexico Beach community development council.

The locals say that their home even the way it is right now, still beats most anywhere else.

"It's beautiful here. I mean you look and you see destruction, but at the end of the day there's still the same sunset, over the same water. It's just beautiful here," said Caudill.

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