Changes Underway for Regional Wastewater Facility

Posted on March 11, 2021 by Romi White

Santa Rosa County in 1999 purchased a large tract of land adjacent to Santa Rosa Industrial Park for $1.5 million. Hundreds of those acres have not since been utilized, and now the City of Milton is asking to use 200 acres (designated by the yellow “X” in the graphic) for construction of a rapid infiltration basin system adjacent to the city’s future wastewater treatment plant. But locals are concerned about discharging treated effluent so close to freshwater springs, Blackwater River and Cooper Basin, a critical habit for Gulf Sturgeon, which spawn annually in the mouth of the basin.

The City of Milton is seeking alternatives for its future wastewater treatment facility in East Milton after construction bids came back higher than projected and NAS Whiting Field changed its mind about using treated effluent from the plant.

Milton City Manager Randy Jorgenson during Tuesday’s City Council meeting said when bids were opened February 15 the project’s construction costs had skyrocketed into the $50 million range. He said COVID-19, Hurricane Sally and increased prices for materials had played roles in the increase.

Jorgenson also informed the council that NAS Whiting Field is no longer interested in using treated effluent from the future wastewater treatment plant on its golf course, citing the potential to further compound water quality issues the base is facing.

But not having to pipe effluent for miles across Blackwater River to the base will also save roughly $18 million, adjusting projected costs back down to about $32 million, which is only about $2.5-5 million more than previous cost projections. Jorgenson said he plans to seek RESTORE Act funding to cover that cost increase.

As for where to discharge the future effluent, the city now plans to ask Santa Rosa County to allow a rapid infiltration basin system (RIBs) to be built on 200 acres the county purchased in 1999 but has not since utilized. That property is adjacent to the future treatment plant.

City Councilman Jeff Snow praised Jorgenson for developing the idea for the RIBs, which will reduce the treated effluent pipeline from miles down to just 200 yards.

But neighbors in the area, who did not want to go on record, say they have concerns about discharging treated effluent so close to freshwater springs, Blackwater River and nearby Cooper Basin, a critical habitat for Gulf Sturgeon, a federally-designated threatened prehistoric species which spawns annually in the mouth of the basin.

The RIBs issue is expected to be brought before the Santa Rosa County Commission in the near future.

The city’s existing wastewater treatment plant, which discharges up to 2.5 million gallons of treated effluent into Blackwater River each day, is expected to reach capacity in 2023, when the future plant is expected to be up and operating at half capacity; once complete, the former facility will not discharge into the river, and the new facility will be able to process 6 million gallons a day and serve a larger area, per city officials.