Wastewater pact with Eglin on distant horizon

Holley-Navarre Water System officials have reassured Williams Creek residents that the utility’s plan to treat wastewater near their homes is temporary. However,  an alternative proposal to pipe the effluent to Eglin Air Force Base is years from reality.

There are numerous complications and potential snags that weren’t discussed at the County Commission’s special meeting last week at which several Williams Creek residents objected to Holley-Navarre’s request for permission to build a $1 million wastewater filtration system on acreage it owns in their neighborhood.

The board tabled that decision until May 26 while directing its staff to get more information about the project, including the validity of residents’ concerns about possible flooding and pollution that could make its way to Santa Rosa Sound. Commissioners also requested details on where arrangements stand on the eventual use of Eglin to spread civilian effluent.

“We wish you would take note of the little people today,” pleaded Patricia Henson, a Williams Creek resident since 1990.

Subsequent to that meeting, the Holley-Navarre Water System wrote a letter to the Santa Rosa County Development Service department, citing specific reasons to allay the concerns of Williams Creek residents. The letter pointed out that a 2004 Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) study indicated the Rapid Infiltration Basin System project would have no adverse impact on the ecosystem. The Wastewater Treatment plant is also an Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant facility which provides treatment well in excess of that required. Fears about contamination of the underlying aquifer and tainting the water supply were also addressed. In fact, “the Water Management District, the state agency in charge of regulating potable water use throughout the state of Florida, also encourages the use of spray irrigation and percolation as a means to recharge the aquifer.” With regard to flooding, a 2005 Geotechnical Evaluation was completed which reflected the current effluent flow through Williams Creek is 139 times more than the RIBS will allow once the two systems are installed.


Bigger picture looms

Discussions between Santa Rosa County leaders and the base’s real estate department to agree on a long-term lease began at least five years ago, according to people close to the conversations. But the talks remain mired in bureaucracy and so far haven’t produced a suggested fee or a framework on what agency would pay it, say people close to the talks.

“We talked to (county engineering supervisors) a few months ago and we kind of let them make the decision, and we haven’t heard back from them,” said Paul Gardner, Holley-Navarre’s general manager, in an interview last week. “Right now we are just waiting for them.”

If an agreement is reached, Gardner estimates that building a pipeline of roughly 5 miles from Navarre to the base would take two to three years. But Holley-Navarre Water isn’t even currently in direct contact with the Air Force, and has relinquished responsibility over reaching a wastewater agreement to the Santa Rosa County Engineering Department

But County Engineer Roger Blaylock said that progress on the discussions must await some decisions, including whether Holley-Navarre Water will construct the pipe and use it only for that utility’s 14,000 customers. He raised the possibility that “Navarre Beach Water (and Sewer—which is county owned) would be involved.”

Blaylock corrected a reporter’s description of the county’s contact with Eglin about wastewater disposal there as “negotiations,” explaining that the exchanges aren’t yet that detailed. “You can say ‘discussions.’”


More players possible

“Technically, yes, the Eglin project is in county hands,” Blaylock said.

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.

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.

Any eventual 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.

He estimated that the lease would need to include at least 200 acres and would cost “millions of dollars” over an as-yet unspecified long-term period.

Meanwhile, Gardner estimates that the Williams Creek wastewater treatment facility, known as RIBS could be built within eight months at a cost of about $1 million. There will be no mechanical building or above-ground equipment at the site.

“If it’s permitted (by commissioners) on May 26, I would like to have our surveyors out there on the 27th,” Gardner said.


Maximum effluent cap reached

Meanwhile, during the ensuing weeks, the Holley-Navarre Water System has surpassed the maximum amount of effluent allowed by the FDEP. In an effort to disperse the effluent, three sites are currently used for that purpose: the Hidden Creek Golf Course, the ponds in front of Holley by the Sea, and 40 acres of back area in the Holley by the Sea subdivision.

On Tuesday, Gardner formally reported this effluent overage to the FDEP. Disapproval of the RIBS now poses significant problems for those waiting on prepaid sewer taps as well as prospective developers and businesses which desire them Gardner says.

“As a licensed operator, I’m under the obligation to self-report,” Gardner said.  He explained that if Navarre is put under a consent order by FDEP, then sewer taps would no longer be sold and even sewer taps that have been sold would not be hooked up to the Navarre Wastewater Treatment plant. “Our only short-term option is that property,” said Gardner, referring to the utility’s 10 acres that borders Williams Creek.

At the County Commission’s Zoning meeting on April 28, District 4 County Commissioner Rob Williamson said he needed more information before he could vote. On Friday, he will take a tour of the two Wastewater Treatment plants, one located in Holley and one in Holley by the Sea. According to Gardner, Williams Creek residents, although offered the tour, have not yet made those arrangements.

And while the Williams Creek facility has been described by Holley-Navarre Water as a temporary solution to wastewater disposal in the area, Gardner acknowledged that it could be used on occasion in the future even if the Eglin deal goes through.

“If there was an emergency…damage to the line,” Gardner said, “we’d have that property to go back to.”

Gardner is scheduled to meet with FDEP Thursday.

Read the full article in the May 5 issue of Navarre Press. Click HERE to subscribe online.

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