The city of Port St. Joe and Florida Department of Environmental Protection have entered into a consent order outlining a plan to address issues with the city’s wastewater lagoon.
The city will be fined $500 for regulatory violations over the years and provided a three-year period to attempt to address the problems through “biological dredging.”
In addition, during those three years the DEP will relax the threshold for violations so the city will accrue no more violations or fines unless the new relaxed benchmark is exceeded.
“This is a good motivator,” said Commissioner David Ashbrook. “We have been planning for (some kind of dredging).”
The city has long been vexed with problems in the 75-acre lagoon, with algae and stink issues arising in the heat of a typical summer, a particular nuisance for residents in adjacent Highland View.
“We’ve had a problem with algae for several years,” said City Manager Jim Anderson.
Meanwhile, the city has also exceeded limits for what are known as “total suspended solids,” in what is discharged to the spray fields, triggering regulatory violations.
The benchmark is 5 parts per million; under the three-year term of the consent order the benchmark will be raised for the city to 20 parts per million.
Additionally, constructed in 1972, the lagoon’s window, without dredging the sludge that builds on the bottom, was closing in the next few years.
However, the estimated cost of the dredging was well into seven figures, far outside the city’s financial wherewithal.
Further, disposal of the sludge resulting in such dredging has become an environmentally controversial practice.
A final factor, and this one a positive for St. Joseph Bay, is the city no longer discharges into the bay when the lagoon gets too high, but into spray fields operational since 2012 on land donated by the St. Joe Company.
Last year, the city had a company offer, free of charge, a six-month trial project of a biological approach to the dredging: effectively using another biologic to dissolve the sludge.
“We had some good signs there,” Anderson said, noting that a significant amount of sludge was removed from the bottom.
Anderson said DEP officials have been working with the city on possible solutions and the final result is the consent order.
“The DEP listened to us on ways to fix (the problems) and put it writing,” Anderson said.
He added that the presence of the consent order and prior violations will be a positive for the city in the pursuit of state or federal grant money to help fund the fixes.
But, how much the fixes will cost is the next question.
Commissioners moved Tuesday night to move ahead with a request for proposals.
The hope, Anderson said, was that an initial “biological dredging” will act as something of a “shock” to the lagoon, easing the way a bit for the rest of the work.
10th Street Park
Residents to the current 10th Street Park continued to push back against a board decision earlier this month to approve a resolution with a budgeted plan for improvements to the park.
In addition to what have become familiar concerns about safety, flooding and disruption of lives, several residents referenced documents and questioned why a recreational complex was not being built on Field of Dreams Ave.
One document was a copy of the specialty warranty deed issued by the St. Joe Company to the city concerning acreage off Field of Dreams to be used “for a recreational complex.”
The land is now used by the city has a lay down yard for yard debris picked up by city crews.
Language in the deed directly indicates no other use for the land and there were several questions (could the city lose the land, in particular) best left to an attorney to decipher.
City attorney Adam Albritton said he would review the deed and come back to the board.
Secondly, documents were provided dating to 2005, and revisited by county and city officials in 2013, detailing a joint venture to build a “sports complex” on Field of Dreams.
The earlier document was part of a wide-ranging interlocal agreement between county and city; the second document stemmed from discussions by the Board of County Commissioners to implement a fifth penny of bed tax for a sports complex.
In implementing the fifth penny, the BOCC has expanded, via language, the use to include parks and recreation and last summer the BOCC unanimously approved moving the focus away from Field of Dreams to 10th Street.
The BOCC has yet to approve spending bed tax dollars on the city’s proposed plan for the improvements at 10th Street Park, which includes the addition of one field, additional parking and concessions.