Given the passage of time updates may be required, but several county projects got the green light Monday after an announcement from Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott announced approval and a Memorandum of Agreement with the Gulf Coast Consortium on a State Expenditure Plan (SEP) to spend some $291 million in fine dollars stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
These are so-called Pot 3 RESTORE Act funds, different from Pot 1 RESTORE (the county’s direct allocation) and Triumph Gulf Coast.
The SEP includes septic to sewer upgrades for the cities of Wewahitchka and Port St. Joe, including the running of sewer into Beacon Hill.
Additionally, the plan provides funding for erosion control structures along St. Joseph Peninsula and funding for land acquisition.
“This is a big deal,” said Warren Yeager, a board director of the Consortium of 23 Florida counties charged with spending so-called Pot 3 RESTORE Act funds.
“It’s a big deal because we have been working on this for three years. (These projects) make sense. They help the environment and they help the county.”
And they carry significant caveats as currently drafted given the passage of those three years.
The erosion control project will likely need amending as the project would again involve the Coastal Barrier Resource Act (CBRA) zone, a constant thorn for the county.
And the lands initially identified for acquisition in the application to the Consortium have been secured through swaps with Deseret Cattle and Timber.
The biggest caveat is, as it has been for all things related to disbursing fine money from Deepwater, is the length of time between award and money in the bank.
Thus far the county has not seen significant funding from any of the pots or sources.
The Consortium money coming to the county, $12.8 million give or take will flow over the next 12 years.
The sewer projects, according to the timeline in the SEP, will not be completed until well into the next decade.
Additionally, the dollars are coming out of the U.S. Treasury and a grant application process which, in the case of so-called Pot 1 dollars and the beach restoration project, has proved laborious.
The Gulf Coast Consortium was formed three years ago, with members voting to divide equally among the 23 counties the $291 million, resulting in each county receiving just shy of $13 million.
Of those funds coming to the county, the SEP calls for $7 million to be used for sewer upgrades.
Those start in Beacon Hill and the activation of a “dry line” out of a force main the city of Port St. Joe ran from St. Joe Beach to Beacon Hill several years ago.
That will allow sewer service to some 650 customers and the elimination of nearly 400 septic systems, according to the SEP.
In addition, the funding would allow for the replacement of sewer pipes to a large swath of the city of Port St. Joe, particularly downtown and older sections of the city.
The city of Wewahitchka would receive funding to implement its proposed six-phase effort to expand its sewer system, including installation of lift stations, to reach the entire city service area.
“The proposed wastewater infrastructure improvements are significant and will allow for the abandonment of 850 septic systems located on small urban lots, and the replacement of 27,300 linear feet of failing sewer infrastructure that carries wastewater flows from 260 small urban lots,” detailed the SEP.
“These upgrades are proposed for areas that are likely to contribute to groundwater and surface water degradation in St. Joseph Bay, the Chipola River and Apalachicola Bay.”
Both those projects, Yeager said, would likely see initial design and engineering dollars in the next year with additional funding to follow in ensuing years.
The county, in its application to the Consortium, details that its Pot 1 multi-year spending plan commits $2 million future dollars to the projects, which carry a total price tag of over $15 million.
The county, therefore, will seek funding of another roughly $6.5 million from other sources, such as a loan/grant package the State Revolving Fund or Triumph Gulf Coast, among others listed in the SEP.
The St. Joseph Peninsula Erosion Control Project would install 13 segmented underwater structures, 200 x 40, along the peninsula’s southern end at a cost of $3 million.
“We will probably have to amend that one,” Yeager said, noting the presence of CBRA designations in the project area.
He said recommendations for a path forward will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners.
Finally, the county proposed to spend $2.6 million for land acquisition.
Yeager said the project had a focus on boat ramps at Odena and Willis Landing, both of which the county was leasing.
But the county has acquired, or taken steps to acquire, both through land swaps with Deseret.
That project and those dollars, Yeager said, would also likely be amended after going back before the BOCC for approval of an amended project.