In a move that would eliminate the need for a controversial wastewater disposal site being proposed in the Williams Creek neighborhood, Holley-Navarre Water System is exploring a deal to spread effluent on fields owned by South Santa Rosa Utility.
“We’re in discussions. Our engineers are talking,” said Matt Dannheisser, an attorney who is the mayor of the City of Gulf Breeze, which owns SSRU.
The arrangement could ease the pressure on Holley-Navarre Water to expand its wastewater disposal capacity, which is already failing to meet Florida Department of Environmental Protection requirements on some days, according to the utility.
An agreement to use SSRU’s unneeded fields would also save Holley-Navarre millions of dollars it has been planning to spend on a pipeline to Eglin Air Force Base, where it’s in talks to use remote acreage to spread treated wastewater.
Such a pact could also preempt Holley-Navarre’s request for a conditional-use permit to allow it to construct a $1 million wastewater filtration system in the Williams Creek neighborhood – essentially a man-made lake with gravel underneath – that county commissioners are scheduled to vote on tonight. Area homeowners object to the project out of concerns about possible pollution.
Thus the alternative to use South Santa Rosa Utility property – a 42-acre parcel on Bergren Road – appears viable to Linda Young, director of the Santa Rosa chapter of Clean Water Network, a volunteer environmental group. In a letter to commissioners last week, she wrote, “Sending its excess effluent to the City of Gulf Breeze will be the most cost effective solution; it is the most expedient way to temporarily eliminate HNWS’ ongoing permit violations; it will threaten no one’s homes.”
James Calkins, vice president of Holley-Navarre Water’s board of directors, told a reporter, “I love this idea. But it’s a question of how soon we could hook into South Santa Rosa’s system because we need more disposal capacity right away.”
Both utilities, along with two other companies, own Fairpoint Regional Utility System, a collective through which the members share certain costs and the use of water wells, pumps and storage tanks. The goal of this arrangement is to better manage water prices.
A relatively quick fix
The mechanics of connecting Holley-Navarre Water System pipes that carry wastewater from its treatment plant to SSRU’s system appear to be simpler and less expensive than the planned pipeline to Eglin, a construction project with an estimated $12 -18 million cost that would take three years to complete.
Instead, Holley-Navarre Water System could extend pipes it owns that carry some of its treated wastewater to ponds in Holley by the Sea so they move the effluent about 5 miles to SSRU’s Bergren Road property, Dannheisser said.
In such a scenario, Dannheisser speculated that SSRU could sharply reduce the eventual cost that HNWS faces if it can negotiate a long-term lease at Eglin, which county officials estimate the fee at about $1 million for 20 years: “We wouldn’t charge them anything like that. We have a very good relationship with Holley-Navarre Water and we would want to make this work for the company and its ratepayers.”
What’s more, Holley-Navarre apparently wouldn’t have to navigate the bureaucratic challenge it may face to spread effluent at Eglin. Dannheisser said, “We already have the permits for Bergren Road.”
In contrast, the HNWS plan to use Eglin has languished for years in discussions with the base’s real estate officials. They might require that a lease be finalized with, or through, the Western Regional Utility Authority, which consists of Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties, along with several municipalities. The covenant could cover several governments so the Air Force can avoid a mishmash of agreements over various time frames and with different financial arrangements, according to Santa Rosa County Engineer Roger Blaylock.
Marriage of convenience
If a pact between the utilities can be reached, that could benefit South Santa Rosa Utility in a separate matter: the quest for a conditional-use permit to expand its wastewater treatment plant at Tiger Point Golf Club, which is also owned by the City of Gulf Breeze.
County commissioners have delayed the permit for nearly a year while they struggle to reach an accord with the city’s leaders, who are refusing to follow through on a promise to rehab and reopen the golf club’s west course – which has been closed for years because of hurricane damage.
Dannheisser and the Gulf Breeze City Council have sought to bargain with the commission over the fate of the west course in return for permission for the wastewater plant expansion. If that conditional permit isn’t granted, the city has countered that SSRU will have to build an expensive new plant on the Bergren Road property that will mean sizable increases in sewer service fees for its 4,000 or so customers who live in Tiger Point – about 7 miles from the municipality’s border.
While Dannheisser acknowledged that the latest plan could help county commissioners in ending the community protest at Williams Creek, he said the city isn’t expecting payback involving Tiger Point Golf.
“If we can help Holley-Navarre Water and our neighbors, we’re happy to do it,” Dannheisser said.
Still, he confirmed that the idea of allowing HNWS to use the city’s property for effluent disposal emerged earlier this month when officials of both utilities met by chance in a hallway at the County Administration Building. They were each there to speak with commissioners seeking support for their respective conditional- use permits.