JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- Commander, Navy Region Southeast presented the Department of the Navy Superior Public Service Award to the owners of Bugg Spring during a ceremony at the property in Okahumpka, Fla., Jan. 26.
Rear Adm. John C. Scorby Jr. presented the award in recognition of Dr. Joe Branham and his wife, Margaret's, five decades of support to the U.S. Navy.
The Branham's were the long-time owners of Bugg Spring and surrounding areas. The family purchased the 69-acre property in 1923 and began leasing a portion of it to the Navy for sonar testing purposes in 1956. On Dec. 30, 2011, the Branhams sold the entire property to the Navy for $2.4 million.
Throughout the years, the property has become the Navy's standardizing activity in the area of underwater acoustic measurements. As the home to the Underwater Sound Reference Division (USRD) of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, the research conducted at the spring is a crucial support element for the Navy's submarine and surface fleet, and the Branhams' have been instrumental in making that research possible, Scorby said.
"I wanted to come here and personally thank the Branhams for their commitment support to our Navy," Scorby said. "This one-of-a-kind facility is so important and we really owe our gratitude to Dr. and Mrs. Branham for their generosity and patriotism throughout the past 60 years."
Although Joe said it was an honor to accept the award, the true pleasure was having the opportunity to meet those who were in attendance.
"It feels very good to be able to accept the award today and we really enjoyed the company of all of the fine men and women from the Navy who came here today," Joe said.
According to Tony Paolero, USRD technical program manager, the 175-feet deep Bugg Spring is not only a perfect setting for sonar testing, it is one-of-a-kind due to its isolated, noise-free environment.
"It's the perfect place for low-frequency calibrations," he said. "We can calibrate at ambient conditions that are below sea state zero, which is ideal and not in existence anywhere else."
When the Branham family originally decided to lease the spring to the Navy in 1956, Joe and Margeret said they weren't initially sure what the implications would be. According to Margaret, they certainly didn't foresee a relationship that would grow and mature for the next 60 years.
"I had just graduated from Florida State and I was setting off on a new adventure with world travels and a new Ph.D. in biology and we had other things to think about rather than the implications of the lease," Joe said.
The years of living in close proximity of the Naval facility and its workers has been a positive experience for the Branhams.
"We've had a good relationship with the Navy," Margaret said. "We've personally known all of the commanders of the facility."
"And as high school teachers, we even taught many of their kids," said Joe, "so we've certainly developed personal relationships with the Navy over the years."
In fact, the Branham's developed such a good relationship with the Navy that they decided to lease the property for less than fair market value throughout the past five years. Property leases had to be renegotiated every five years and the last negotiation was in 2006, Joe explained.
"A lady from Charleston called and said, 'I've got good news for you. The evaluation has come out at $87,500,' and I said, 'Well, that's far too much because that's taxpayer money.' We settled on $60,000, and out of consideration for the economy of our country and the good of our Navy, we were pleased to be able to do that."
With the expiration of the lease late last year, the Branhams were faced with the Navy's proposition to purchase the property outright. According to Paolero, the deal was a key acquisition for the Navy because it prevents future incompatible development that would degrade the integrity of the research facility, which relies heavily on its isolation from ambient noise. But for Joe and Margaret, it was a difficult decision to sell the property their family has called home for nearly a century.
"It turns out to be a lot harder than you think to give up something you're so fond of, but I'm very pleased that we could do this because I do feel loyal to our country," he said. "I've felt a responsibility to be a good steward to this place, and I know the Navy has a record of honoring history and ecological situations and I hope that tradition continues here."
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