The proposed lease by Holley Navarre Water System of rural land in the Bergren Road area to dispose of treated wastewater could save much of the estimated $18 million it had planned to spend building a pipe to Eglin Air Force Base for the same purpose.
Such savings could help pay for—among other things—repairs to the utility’s aging sewer system. Officials at HNWS say that some sections of line have been infiltrated by groundwater and storm runoff — some of it deliberately channeled by homeowners — that mixes with wastewater to increase the flow volume and expense of operating the utility’s treatment plant.
Although the lease for acreage owned by the City of Gulf Breeze’s South Santa Rosa Utility may come at a hefty cost, the price of building new pipe extensions to the property from HNWS’s existing lines would be much lower than the Eglin project. Further, negotiations with Eglin officials don’t appear close to completion, according to people familiar with the discussions—and building the roughly 25-mile pipeline to the base would take several years.
In addition, the money saved by leasing spray field acreage in south Santa Rosa could help HNWS pay for other needs, including expected costs from its planned merger with Navarre Beach Water and Sewer. Those expenses would include demolishing the beach utility’s treatment plant and piping raw sewage under Santa Rosa Sound to the HNWS mainland facility on Turkey Bluff Road.
“If we can reach an agreement with the city (Gulf Breeze) to spray effluent on that land, it could lead to some good things,” said James Calkins, volunteer vice president of the HNWS board. Further, Calkins, who owns a Navarre Beach leisure equipment rental business, said a deal to lease the Bergren Road area land could free up money for repairs needed to the utility’s existing infrastructure.
The utility is on the home stretch of lengthy negotiations to lease vacant property in the Tiger Point area. Board President Bien May said he expects a contract proposal in July from the City of Gulf Breeze’s South Santa Rosa Utility System under which HNWS would pay to use some of that company’s rural land to spray up to two million gallons of effluent a day.
That would alleviate the utility’s shortage of effluent disposal capacity. Last week May confirmed a report by this newspaper that his utility has long exceeded the maximum amount for effluent disposal allowed under its state permit by tens of thousands of gallons a day.
But, May—who volunteers at the utility and works in medical equipment repair–said the excess of treated and recycled water that must be either sprayed on designated land—such as the utility’s Hidden Creek Golf Club–or piped into ponds is due to the “inflow and infiltration” from non-sewer sources such as yards.
May blamed some of the intrusion on homeowners who he said deliberately break into HNWS sewer pipes to drain stormwater from their property or nearby roads. He vowed to crack down on such practices and identify culprits with the utility’s underground camera.
Paul Gardner, who is the general manager of HNWS, a paid position, said the utility has one such camera “on wheels that our crews deploy into a section … inside the pipe to video any damaged or clogged portions of the system.”
County Engineer Roger Blaylock said in a recent email to this newspaper that although the county maintains stormwater control infrastructure, his office can’t take the responsibility of monitoring possible discharges into HNWS’s system by individual homeowners.
“Stormwater control is not necessarily under my control,” Blaylock said. “Engineering reviews all new developments for stormwater standards compliance. We are, however, aware of illicit stormwater discharges into wastewater systems…”
Yet Blaylock said his office hasn’t detected specific instances of illegal stormwater discharges nor reported such activity to the County Code Enforcement Office. For now he’s apparently leaving the enforcement up to HNWS: “Most wastewater utilities deal with illicit discharges into their treatment system and attempt to minimize such discharges which violate state law.”
Calkins said the solution isn’t policing by the utility: “The bottom line is that we need some new infrastructure.”
In May’s letter to this newspaper last week, he acknowledged, “There are certainly sections of the wastewater system that are aging and part of the problem. We have a program in place to identify and repair these areas.”
Up to now, while the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has monitored the utility’s effluent discharge overages—which topped an average of 100,000 gallons a day in April—the agency has been supportive while HNWS seeks to expand its effluent disposal capacity.
Talks between HNWS and the utility system owned by Gulf Breeze have been underway for more than a year and have been slowed by the lack of an agreement over the proposed lease’s financial terms.
Expanding HNWS’s reuse capacity by such an amount would allow it to comply with its water recycling permit.
Further, such an increase in wastewater disposal capacity would give HNWS the option to reduce spraying at Hidden Creek golf course, which the utility owns. That’s where HNWS spreads most of its effluent: about 1.2 million gallons a day on parts of the facility’s 143 acres, according to figures provided by the utility. HNWS is also permitted to pump up to 48,000 gallons of effluent daily into the decorative ponds at the entrance to the Holley by the Sea subdivision.
Moreover, Calkins asserted, leasing the SSRUS land would give Holley Navarre Water the effluent disposal capacity it needs for future expansion—including the merger with Navarre Beach Water and Sewer—which would add about 4,000 customers to the 14,000 ratepayers that HNWS already has.
Meanwhile, Calkins said, HNWS could eliminate the water treatment facility at the beach that currently disposes of effluent in Santa Rosa Sound: “That would be a major plus for the environment.”
Read the full article in the June 29 issue of Navarre Press. Subscribe online at navarrepress.com for as little as $38 per year.