(PNJ 12/10/15, Thomas St. Myer)
A public backlash from its initial proposal last month sent Emerald Coast Utilities Authority back to the drawing board for potential expansion of itsPensacola Beach reclaimed water system.
ECUA unveiled a modified proposal Wednesday night at the Santa Rosa Island Authority board meeting with a new location for a storage tank capable of holding three times the amount of water initially proposed and with the potential to further reduce discharge into the Santa Rosa Sound.
The utilities company is proposing to construct a 2.4-million gallon storage tank and pumping station in the same vicinity as the three potable tanks on the beach. The Island Authority board unanimously approved a public meeting for ECUA to discuss its modified proposal at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Island Authority facility.
Terry Preston, of Pensacola Beach Advocates, credited the utilities company for addressing public concerns with the modified proposal. Preston ultimately favors moving the ECUA plant off the island entirely, but she said the new proposed site fits with what is already on the beach.
"My preference would be to tell everybody out here you can only plant drop-resistant, salt-resistant stuff," Preston said, "but if we're going to allow them to plant soil and they're going to throw water on it, I'd rather use reclaimed water than potable water."
Tim Haag, ECUA director of governmental affairs, said the five-phase reclaimed water system will cost an estimated $3.9 million. Northwest Florida Water Management District awarded a $425,000 grant to ECUA for the construction of the storage tank and pumping station with the requirement that the initial phase be completed by October of 2017. ECUA already budget $1.5 million for the project and another $1.6 million will be coming over the next six years. The utilities company will seek additional grant funds through the RESTORE Act process.
ECUA initially proposed constructing a 750,000-gallon storage tank and pumping station in an area south of the Via De Luna tennis courts and north of the walking oval, near Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church and Pensacola Beach Elementary School. The estimated cost for that five-phase system was $3.1 million.
At a public meeting last month, the beach community voiced its frustration with the selected location and the limited potential benefit of installing a storage tank that only holds 750,000 gallons. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of discharge would still flow into the Sound on peak days.
The fact only the Island Authority and commercial property leaseholders stood to benefit from reclaimed water system expansion further alienated the beach community.
The current ECUA reclaimed water system provides irrigation water only to the Santa Rosa Island Authority for a limited portion of the Via De Luna Right-of-Way. The ECUA potable water system provides the majority of water currently used for irrigation on the beach.
The Island Authority uses about 10 to 15 percent of the reclaimed water for irrigation with the remainder discharged into the Sound from the treatment plant. Haag said the Island Authority typically pays $3,000 to $3,500 for reclaimed irrigation water, an estimated savings of about $10,000 from the potable rate for the same amount of water. He said the utilities company is exploring how to provide reclaimed water to beach residents, too.
The possibility of moving the ECUA plant off the island dominated a significant portion of the conversation Wednesday. Haag estimated the total cost for that project to be in the $50-million ballpark. ECUA board member Dale Perkins said that is perhaps a possibility someday, but at $50 million, that is a long ways from being feasible.
"If we were to tell everybody in the county that has say an ECUA account, we're going to add $4,000 to your bill and we'll let you pay it over time to move that plant, we'd have a full meeting," Perkins said. "Or if we told everybody on the beach, we're just going to confine it to the beach, but everybody on the beach we're going to have an MSBU of $30,000 and we'll take that thing off the beach, we'd have a full meeting. There would be objections to that."
To read the original article, click here.