It was strictly business for the Board of County Commissioners during last week’s meeting.
St. Joe Beach property owner Tom Graney went before the BOCC to talk about the ongoing problems with the Americus ditch project.
“It’s not functioning properly,” Graney told the council of the $1.2 million project installed more than six years ago.
Graney said that District 3 Commissioner Joanna Bryan had brought findings on the project to the last meeting but her fellow commissioners had ignored them.
“By not discussing it, now you must deal with it,” said Graney. “The pipe doesn’t stay in the ground.”
Graney requested that engineers who installed the pipe come before the board to explain why it requires constant repairs and why the project ended up costing more than originally projected.
Since work on the pipe system was completed in 2008, the site has undergone nearly 150 repairs, averaging three a month.
Graney went on to accuse the board of violating a Florida Statute when they first awarded the bid.
According to Florida Law, contractors must be prequalified with the Department of Transportation to bid on road, bridge, or public transportation construction projects greater than $250,000.
“The bidder was clearly unqualified,” said Graney. “Something is wrong with the bid process.”
He encouraged commissioners to figure out how to fix the existing problems before they began popping up elsewhere in the county as additional drainage is added to accommodate new residents.
After having his speaking time extended twice, Graney looked to the board for a response.
Chairman Tan Smiley said he’d spoken with two residents on Americus who had said that the pipe system wasn’t perfect, but it was better than what they had, referring to the standing water that existed previously.
“No one made a fuss like you are today,” Smiley said to Graney.
Commissioner Ward McDaniel asked Graney not to focus on the bid process that happened six years ago, prior to most of the BOCC members being elected and encouraged him to have a positive attitude toward the situation.
“You’re trying to pass the buck on a previous board,” said McDaniel. “Yes, we’ve got some problems. Issues developed in during the process.”
Before he stepped away from the podium, Graney encouraged commissioners to either stop the growth of Gulf County or be able to plan for it.
He worried about the ditch’s effects on drainage if the area had a repeat of last summer’s rainfall which brought the area 25 inches in 30 days.
Graney agreed that public education was necessary to stop the flooding and asked the residents of Gulf County to stop pouring concrete driveways as it doesn’t allow water to drain properly.
He also asked his fellow citizens to be mindful of their water use and said that during the summer downpours he still saw sprinklers on in some yards around St. Joe Beach.
Prior to adjourning, the topic switched to the Economic Development Alliance and the resignation of director Barry Sellers, whose last day was on Nov. 29.
Neal Wade, executive director of the Bay County EDA will oversee operations, according to Commissioner Warren Yeager, and the commissioners voted to make Tourist Development Council executive director Jennifer Jenkins the point of contact.
The EDA planned to give $4,500 to the Port Authority to get through May of next year though Commissioner Carmen McLemore asked what would happen with the remainder of Sellers’ budget since he’d only been paid around $20,000 of an $80,000 salary.
McLemore didn’t want the EDA to spend it but rather have it as a surplus in case of emergency.
County attorney Jeremy Novak said that the County had a contract with the EDA and without Sellers employed; they still had a contractual obligation to the group.
“Once they get the port going, they’re not going to need it,” Yeager told McLemore alluding to the EDA funding from the BOCC. “I’m more encouraged now than I’ve ever been.”
McLemore expressed his frustration and told his fellow commissioners that they can’t keep throwing money into a bucket and not get a return. Yeager asked McLemore to give it a little more time.