The risk of a state-imposed regulatory moratorium on new sewer hookups by Holley-Navarre Water System is being exaggerated so the company can build a controversial wastewater treatment unit in the Williams Creek residential neighborhood.
In persuading Santa Rosa County commissioners to approve HNWS’s request for a permit to build the $1 million disposal system -essentially a pond with gravel underneath – company officials told the board in a zoning hearing last Thursday that they’re under pressure from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to add capacity soon.
“We owe FDEP a phone call in the morning depending on what happens at this meeting,” said Phil Phillips, a Holley-Navarre engineer.
But agency spokeswoman Brandy Smith said in an email to the Navarre Press on Friday: “We have not issued Holley-Navarre a warning or advisory letter or specified a deadline associated with increasing their reuse capacity.”
As previously reported, the agency is taking a collaborative stance on Holley-Navarre’s disposal deficiency. Smith previously said FDEP would work with the utility toward a long-term solution.
Neither Phillips nor Holley-Navarre General Manager Paul Gardner has returned a reporter’s phone calls and email queries about the agency’s response, or why they insist it’s urgent to build at Williams Creek as a quick fix. The utility estimates the Williams Creek filtration unit can be operating in about eight months, compared with about two years for the fastest long-term effluent disposal alternative.
The company has said that when it can build better disposal infrastructure, the Williams Creek facility will be used only as a backup.
Due diligence lacking
Although Gardner and other HNWS officials asserted to county commissioners at a special zoning meeting in April that the utility is at risk of regulatory discipline, no one on the board has asked to see written verification for specifics about the FDEP’s requirements.
Commission Chairman Lane Lynchard, responding to a reporter’s question on Friday, said in an email: “I haven’t seen any such proof.”
Lynchard was the lone dissenter in Thursday night’s 2-1 board approval of Holley-Navarre’s plan to immediately start surveying and site preparation to build the Williams Creek facility. Commissioners Rob Williamson and Don Salter voted to support HNWS, while colleagues Jayer Williamson and Bob Cole weren’t in attendance.
The board approved the utility’s plan to build the wastewater filtration system on property it owns near several Williams Creek homes. The vote came over the voiced objections of a half dozen area residents.
Fearing possible pollution and flooding, they asked HNWS to scrap the Williams Creek plan in favor of an alternative: the utility is in talks with South Santa Rosa Utility to use a vacant parcel of that company’s property on Bergren Road to spread effluent. As reported in this newspaper last week, SSRU has offered the use of its land at minimal cost to Holley-Navarre.
Extending Holley-Navarre’s existing pipe from a current disposal site in Holley by the Sea to Bergren Road, roughly 5 miles, would take between 600 and 660 days, according to an HNWS estimate to commissioners at Thursday’s meeting.
But utility officials asserted that project might take too long to avoid sanctioning by the FDEP for exceeding effluent disposal capacity limits, which are designed to guard against pollution of lakes, streams and community water systems.
Yet such danger could result from building the Williams Creek filtration unit, said Barbara Albrecht, a Pensacola-based water quality researcher, who warned that nearby wetlands could be threatened: “We’re monkeying with mother nature here.”
The need for haste in building the Williams Creek facility seems doubtful to Williams Creek residents, who point out that the utility has exceeded its state-mandated disposal capacity on certain days for years. Thus Holley-Navarre appears to have considerable leeway because the agency calculates capacity by averaging the use over a roughly one-year period.
So the skepticism of area homeowners seems justified by the FDEP’s relatively low-key approach to the issue as expressed to this newspaper last week: “Holley-Navarre’s permit requires that they properly treat and manage the wastewater they receive, and recent monitoring reports indicate that they have reached their reuse capacity for the reclaimed water after treatment. While we are not currently pursuing any formal enforcement action against Holley-Navarre, we do strongly encourage them to work aggressively to increase their reuse capacity so that they will be able to meet future demand without violating their permit requirements.”
Meanwhile, Rob Williamson urged HNWS at last Thursday’s meeting “to work as if” the utility’s plan to dispose of effluent near Williams Creek “was denied” by commissioners, and to complete a proposed deal with South Santa Rosa Utility to use property it’s offering for wastewater disposal.
Read the full article in the June 2 issue of Navarre Press. Click HERE to subscribe online to your community newspaper.