Santa Rosa County Commissioners voted Thursday to accept a plan for disposal of millions of gallons of sewage and stop discharge of treated effluent into Santa Rosa Sound.
The vote approved the Memorandum of Agreement for the Northwest Florida Regional Reuse and Water Quality Improvements Strategic Plan (MOA).
“It’s a mouthful to say, but it’s an absolute huge deal for Santa Rosa County and Santa Rosa Sound and Navarre Beach,” said acting commission chairman Lane Lynchard.
The MOA allows Holley Navarre Water System (HNWS) to begin building infrastructure for a new $25 million rapid infiltration basin to take the ever-growing flow of wastewater from Holley, Navarre and Navarre Beach. Getting here has been a twisting road of competing needs and bureaucratic delays spanning about 20 years.
For HNWS, the goal was simple.
Incoming sewage was well on its way to exceeding the system’s capacity to treat it. So, the company partnered with Santa Rosa County to pursue creating a new rapid infiltration basin system on a leased portion of Eglin Air Force Base’s property, commonly referred to as the Eglin RIBs project.
Up to 5.4 million gallons of effluent per day would be transported to the Eglin RIBs for treatment and disposal from HWNS and Navarre Beach using an underground piping system.
But the timeline was shaky on when the RIBs would come online with the clock ticking down for HNWS. Meanwhile, City of Gulf Breeze was having the opposite problem. During the summer months, they could not get enough treated effluent to use in their reclaimed water program for customers, launched in 2002.
So, a second option was considered: sell the reuse water to Gulf Breeze.
But due to the limitations of that agreement and sudden progress on the Eglin RIBs, HNWS abandoned that option, leaving Gulf Breeze still in a lurch. All HNWS needed was a final deal with Santa Rosa County.
That agreement was suddenly delayed in late 2019 after a visit by officials to Tallahassee.
The parties discovered a potential windfall of state funding totaling about $12 million if reclaimed water could be provided to Gulf Breeze. Before any of this went before the HNWS board of directors, the agreement shifted gears and a third party joined the mix.
Board members, especially board president Daryl Lynchard, expressed frustration with the sudden change in tune. But with a sizable chunk of state cash on the line, the board quickly got on board.
With Thursday’s vote by commissioners, the agreement is finally concrete.
“This will be transformative for south Santa Rosa County,” said County Administrator Dan Schebler.
Under the terms, HNWS is responsible for 56% of the construction costs of the initial piping and facilities at Eglin. Santa Rosa County would pay the remaining 44%, based on planned usage split.
Santa Rosa County is being credited roughly $1.7 million for the initial permitting, planning and design work completed. The county also plans to use millions in RESTORE funding toward their portion of the project.
Once the treatment facilities are built and operating, Gulf Breeze’s part of the plan comes into play. Piping to connect the city would be created, and the city would receive between 200,000 and 500,000 gallons of reclaimed water per day, with variation depending on the time of year.
HNWs does not accept any responsibility for costs associated with connecting Gulf Breeze to the system to accept reclaimed water. Grant funding is expected to cover the total costs.
Now that the county has signed off on the deal, it goes before City of Gulf Breeze for their approval. HNWS officials hope to have the Eglin RIBs online by November 2022, when they are forecasted to run out of capacity.
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