County Discusses Relocating Wastewater Plant and Establishing Regional Authority

Posted on May 20, 2021 by Romi White

After problems surfaced with plans for the City of Milton’s future wastewater treatment facility, Santa Rosa County Commissioners on Thursday discussed establishing an Authority to oversee the project. The board also discussed the potential to move the future facility to a county-owned parcel further away from Blackwater River.

The board’s attorney, Greg Stewart, said an interlocal agreement could be quickly established to set up the authority. He said agreements like that are frequently used throughout the state because they allows government entities to come together to provide services. “Because it’s more efficient to work together.”

Florida Senator Doug Broxson on Thursday said he supports forming the authority to help the City of Milton with the wastewater treatment project. “They’ve got to have some help,” Broxson, said, noting the city is facing a deadline to stop discharging treated effluent into Blackwater River. “If we don’t have some solution fairly quickly, it would revert back to (the Florida Department of Environmental Protection).” Broxson said “it just makes sense” to include Santa Rosa County into decision making and resource sharing to bring the project to fruition.

The wastewater plant project discussions came to a head after the City of Milton made a presentation during Thursday’s work session, asking use of 100 acres of a 302-acre parcel the county owns adjacent to the planned future wastewater treatment plant.

The City said it plans on May 26 to ask the board to allow construction of a rapid infiltration basin (RIB) system to discharge treated effluent adjacent to the plant – after construction bids for a pipeline to transport it to a previously planned location came back higher than expected.

City Manager Randy Jorgensen told commissioners project bids opened in February came back 100 percent higher than expected. “That’s a problem,” he said.

So the City decided to revise plans to build a 9-mile pipeline to transport the treated effluent to a site near NAS Whiting Field. That’s when the city began exploring building a RIB system closer to the plant.

Currently the City discharges its treated effluent directly into Blackwater River at its existing 37-year-old wastewater treatment plant in downtown Milton. But the state is requiring the city to stop 50 percent of that discharge by the end of 2023 and 100 percent by the end of 2025.

The City is also facing reaching its 2.5 million gallons per day wastewater discharge capacity. “In times of heavy rain we already exceed our capacity,” Jorgensen said, pointing out the city is not accepting new taps onto the system because it has obligations to approved future customers who have already signed up for service.

The City’s 2021 Capacity Analysis Report submitted May 15 to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection shows the 2020 the average daily flow was 1.84 million gallons per day.

The new facility would increase capacity from 2.5 to 4.5 MGD.

Chairman Dave Piech said the county supports the project based on future needs, but he asked Jorgensen why the plant couldn’t be constructed on the 302-acre parcel where the city is seeking to build the RIBs since that site is further away from Blackwater River.

District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright expressed environmental concerns about the slope of the proposed property toward Cooper’s Basin, which is an environmentally sensitive area located on the river.

Jorgensen said the plant has been designed and engineered for the planned location.

District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker proposed the idea of establishing a regional authority to oversee the project so the community isn’t “totally relying on the City.”

Piech asked speakers who had gathered 5,000 petitions against the project if they would agree with the project if the plant was built on the 302-acre parcel, and they expressed support.

“It is one of the most beautiful, pristine bodies of water in the world,” said Milton resident Sheila Brock, who also pointed out all the endangered species in the area. “I ask that you save that beautiful river from any risks when we have an alternative.”

The board will further discuss the issues during their 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, May 25 meeting.