U.S. Fish and Wildlife Clears East Milton Wastewater Treatment Plant

Posted on October 27, 2022 by Romi White

The agency reviewed the future plant’s location, which is roughly 4,000 feet from a critical habitat for Gulf Sturgeon, a threatened subspecies. Graphic by Romi White.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently completed its analysis of the City of Milton’s plans for a future regional wastewater treatment facility in East Milton, concurring the project can move forward with proposed monitoring at a nearby critical habitat for the threatened Gulf Sturgeon subspecies, per the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

In an October 21, 2022 letter to the Emerald Coast Regional Council, which serves as a consultant for the City of Milton, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Florida Ecological Services Field Office in Panama City reported it agrees with the City’s determination that the future plant “may affect, not likely to adversely affect” the Gulf Sturgeon subspecies, which congregate in numbers greater than 700 in the mouth of Cooper Basin during warmer months.

The letter went on to state it is “integral” to protect this Gulf Sturgeon habitat, which the City has committed to monitor via water quality testing and radio telemetry tagging to gather data.

Additionally, the agency’s letter went on the say its analysis and conclusions would be the same regardless of certain 2019 regulations which were vacated July 5, 2022 in the Northern District Court of California.

The City’s current aging wastewater treatment plant, located in downtown Milton, presently discharges treated effluent directly into Blackwater River and is close to reaching its capacity to serve the growing needs of the community.

Therefore, the City has been working on a plan to relocate the plant to a 24-acre site in East Milton. The future North Santa Rosa Regional Reclamation Facility would not only have the ability to eventually nearly quadruple the City’s capacity but also the more modern facility would not discharge any effluent into Blackwater River, a requirement set forth by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

Plans call for the new facility to utilize an adjacent 100-acre parcel for a Rapid Infiltration Basin site to discharge effluent and store partially treated wastewater for use at spray fields.

The project also calls for a pipeline underneath Blackwater River, which has created some vocal opposition. Additionally, there have been concerns about the future plant’s site on a 90-foot elevation which slopes toward the river and near the Cooper Basin critical habitat for Gulf Sturgeon.

But Milton City Councilman Jeff Snow says relocation of the future plant to a different site “would cost tens of millions, and we would not meet FDEP’s timeline on removing effluent from the river.”

The City has received local, state and federal funding for the regional project, including monies from but not limited to: Economic Development Administration, American Rescue Plan Act, Department of Defense Community Infrastructure Program, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection State Revolving Fund.

Currently the City is awaiting final permit approval for its Rapid Infiltration Basin site through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which city officials say have already approved the permit for the plant site.

According to City Manager Randy Jorgensen, construction is expected to commence in 2023 and by 2025 all discharge of effluent into Blackwater River will cease.