Meanwhile, Navarre Beach Water dumps in the Sound
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is pressing Holley-Navarre Water System (HNWS) to build additional wastewater disposal capacity, but the utility’s best long-term solution has languished within the Santa Rosa County bureaucracy.
Commissioners recently started questioning why an agreement that has been in the works for at least a decade to pipe effluent to a remote area of Eglin Air Force Base hasn’t been finalized.
Now there’s a sense of urgency at HNWS because the state regulators who set limits on the amount of effluent utilities can handle have indicated they may order a stop to new residential and commercial hookups if the company can’t add more disposal capacity.
“We’re over the line currently,” James Calkins, vice president of HNWS board of directors, told the Navarre Press this week. “The good news is that DEP is still working with us.”
But the commissioners have learned during that past week that reaching a deal with Eglin is actually the county’s responsibility and that it – not privately owned HNWS – is authorized to negotiate with the Air Force.
The commission’s inquiry has been prompted by the recent outcry of Williams Creek residents over HNWS’s suggested alternative to construct a water filtration system on land it owns in their neighborhood.
Former General Manager Ken Walker told Navarre Press this week that he prepared for the day that they would need additional disposal methods for treated wastewater and that is why they bought the property near Williams Creek in the early 2000s. “We had the geological surveys done before we closed on the property,” he said. Walker further explained that the sand from the Rapid Infiltration Basin system – or RIBs – takes care of most of the water. “The sand stays pretty hot and the water evaporates fairly quickly,” Walker said. Further, he added that in his opinion the fears of the residents are unfounded. “DEP has stringent requirements and we met every one of them. DEP knows what they are doing.”
Walker asserted that he would trust treated wastewater from an advanced water treatment plant before he would trust water from a septic tank system. “Most people do not properly maintain their septic tanks, and I wouldn’t trust the end product, but I would trust the water from our plants.”
Meanwhile, HNWS is separately in talks to acquire the county-owned Navarre Beach Water System. This acquisition would add about 4,000 customers to HNWS’s 14,000 ratepayers and mean that the proposed pipeline to Eglin would originate on the island, run under Santa Rosa Sound and eventually carry all the effluent from the combined utilities to the Air Force base’s land, according to Calkins. In that scenario, Navarre Beach Water System’s sewer plant, which dumps treated effluent into Santa Rosa Sound, would be dismantled.
Sealing two deals
But the county’s priority is reaching an agreement with Eglin for a pipeline that Navarre Beach Water can use when it joins HNWS.
“Is there some leeway there we can work with?” asked District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole, after being informed at his panel’s meeting earlier this week that Eglin’s real estate agency seeks a $1 million fee for a multi-decade pact to spray wastewater on an unused 200-acre parcel.
“We’ve sent Eglin Real Estate a summary of our project and also requested a sit-down meeting,” replied County Engineer Roger Blaylock.
But one potential hitch is that Santa Rosa may have to partner with other area counties to get a deal with Eglin. “Eglin will not talk to just a single agency,” Blaylock explained to the Navarre Press.
Instead, the base real estate officials 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 mish-mash of arrangements over various time frames and with different financial arrangements, according to Blaylock.
A worrisome day in the neighborhood
Meanwhile, the commission and its staff are examining the pros and cons of Holley-Navarre Water’s request for a permit to use land it owns in the Williams Creek area to build a $1 million wastewater treatment facility, known as a Rapid Infiltration Basin System – essentially a fancy name for a shallow pond under which wastewater is filtered through gravel, rocks and other materials to remove contaminants. There will be no mechanical building or above-ground equipment at the site.
“The chances for pollution to get to Williams Creek at all is like a quarter of a percent. It’s so small,” said Calkins. “And the water itself would be filtered; it would be clean.”
While the Williams Creek facility has been described by HNWS as a temporary solution to wastewater disposal in the area, Paul Gardner, general manager of HNWS acknowledged that it could be used on occasion in the future even if the Eglin deal goes through.
Williams Creek residents’ reason that the use of their area by HNWS has gained importance as progress toward the Eglin pipeline has lagged. Indeed, building the pond and underground filtering apparatus in Williams Creek will take an estimated eight months, while Holley-Navarre Water calculates that negotiations and constructing the pipeline to the base – if an agreement with the Air Force can be reached – would take about three years.
Read the full article in the May 12 issue of Navarre Press. Click HERE to subscribe online today.