Pace flood control elbows past Navarre

County officials revealed this week that they have moved the start of five flood control projects in the Pace/Pea Ridge area ahead of stormwater containment in Navarre.

The roughly $10 million in retention ponds, drainage and other infrastructure for which the county is seeking federal funds in the Pace/Pea Ridge area contrast sharply with those projects that are in the grant pipeline for Navarre, including Holley by the Sea: zero projects and no money applied for.

The county’s priorities and plans in the north county were disclosed at a Santa Rosa County Commission meeting Monday in a report by County Engineer Roger Blaylock that was requested by District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker.

Blaylock’s detailed report on the north county plans seemed to take District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson by surprise. “If I was sitting in the audience listening to this, or I was from the Navarre area, I would think there was an obvious omission as it relates to the funding source and that is the number of projects in the District 4 area.”

Williamson’s reaction brought a sharp response later from Yvonne Harper, who recently ended her two-year term as president of the Holley the Sea homeowners association: “After the 2014 rains the first thing Commissioner Williamson should have done when he was sworn into office is to go to Roger Blaylock and other county officials and ask what is it you need to get stormwater projects for District 4 into the pipeline, instead of sitting back and waiting for three years.”

Parker acknowledged the problems in Williamson’s district: “I actually can point out many more spots in the Navarre area than the Pace area that have suffered from not maintaining the natural waterways.”

Finding itself below the top of the county’s current stormwater control priorities isn’t new for Navarre. For example, Santa Rosa County was offered but did not pursue more than $3 million in flood mitigation funding for Holley by the Sea in 2007. County officials cited a required $1.86 million matching cost requirement as the reason.

To be sure, federal funding for the Pace/Pea Ridge projects outlined by Blaylock Monday will also require the county to share costs.

Bang for the Buck

But County Administrator Tony Gomillion said that officials at both the local and federal level must consider the “cost benefit factor” in applying for and approving grants for flood control.

Sheila Harris, the county’s grants director, said the stormwater control projects that get funding priority are those where the most families are affected and the property damage is greatest. She said that Navarre’s flooding issue has taken a back seat to the areas where the stormwater’s effects have been better documented, including “more homes with water in them…”

Parker said another reason for urgency in fixing flooding in the north county is that some roads are threatened after rains, which could delay emergency vehicles. The freshman commissioner added that if federal grant funds—which can take several years to materialize–are too slow in coming, the county should consider dipping into the roughly $27 million in reserves set aside for emergencies such as hurricane recovery.

Although Holley by the Sea community leaders have asked the county to provide stormwater control funds from the estimated $7 million a year in county revenue that is expected from the new half-cent sales tax, Williamson has advocated restricting the amount that should come from that source. Commissioners haven’t yet decided how much to commit to flood control.

Even if all the revenue from the new sales tax were used for flood control, it would only be a start toward the $80 million worth of projects that are needed, according to a Baskerville Donovan study three years ago for which the county paid $400,000.

As seen in the July 27 issue of Navarre Press. Click here to subscribe for as little as $38 per year.

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