City responds to questions on new Wastewater Reclamation Facility

Special to Gannett

The city of Milton operates a sewer system that serves over 67 square miles in the city of Milton, Berryhill area, East Milton, NAS Whiting Field and Munson area. This system serves over 5,000 customers and is growing.

The city is in the process of building a new Regional Wastewater Reclamation Facility. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about the project.

Soiled wastewater continues its journey through the treatment process at the Wastewater Treatment Plant in Milton on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.  A new plant is going to be built in East Milton that will make treating wastewater even more efficient, effective, and safe.

How is sewage treated?

Sanitary sewers send wastewater generated by homes and businesses through a pipe system to a treatment facility. Treatment plants remove solids, chemicals, and other impurities from the raw sewage, leaving only water. The water is then treated to drinking water standards. Treated water is called “effluent." Solids are disposed of separately.

What happens to the effluent currently?

After treatment, the effluent must go somewhere. Currently, all effluent is discharged directly into the Blackwater River. Effluent has been discharged into the river since 1945.

Why is a new treatment facility necessary?

The current Wastewater Treatment Facility on Municipal Way in downtown Milton, has a permitted capacity of 2.5 million gallons per day (MGD).The plant is currently averaging 1.9MGD. During times of heavy rainfall or other surges, the plant exceeds the permitted amount. Expansion at the current site is not feasible due to regulatory constraints and site conditions. The current plant is in a dangerous “AE Special Hazard” Flood Zone and was inundated during Hurricane Ivan and the flood of 2014, endangering the community. The Downtown Plant is estimated to reach full capacity by 2024 and, by law, a new plant to expand capacity must be built.

Where will the new plant be built?

The new plant will be built on 25 acres of property in the Santa Rosa Industrial Park adjacent to the county and state prisons. This property was identified in 2006 and acquired by the city for this purpose in 2009.The property is zoned for industrial use. The plant is on high ground, averaging+75 feet and is in an “X” Zone, not subject to flooding.

Jesse Medley, director of water & wastewater treatment, describes how soiled wastewater goes through a roto screener and into a grit classifier at the Wastewater Treatment Plant in Milton on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. A new plant is going to be built in East Milton that will make treating wastewater even more efficient, effective, and safe.

What is the method of discharge of the effluent of the new facility?

The effluent will be piped to Rapid Infiltration Basin’s(RIB’s). These are engineered ponds similar to stormwater ponds. The treated effluent will flow through a pipe to the basins where the water will percolate though an engineered sand and gravel system. This sand and gravel system provides additional treatment to further clean the drinkable water before it can reach any groundwater system. No effluent will be discharged into any body of water, including the Blackwater River.

Where will the effluent from the new plant be discharged?

The current permitted design has the discharge located approximately 8 miles north of the plant at property owned by Santa Rosa County (“North County” site).This 113+ acre parcel is located just north of NAS Whiting Field. However, the bids for utilizing this site show it to be cost prohibitive and new sites are now being explored. One of the new sites being explored includes the 302+ acre county owned property located to the east of and directly adjacent to where the plant will be built (“South County” site). The southeastern portion of this property ranges in elevation from +100 -+130 feet in height and is in an “X” Zone, not subject to flooding. The property is zoned for industrial use. The South County site could substantially reduce the cost of this component of the project. However, discussions with the county, geo-technical analysis, and environmental studies to determine the viability of the property for the RIB’s has just begun. It is premature to identify the South County site as the final location for the RIB’s at this time.

Why the change to the RIB’s?

Originally estimated at $28 million, all bids for the new facility were over $37 million and all bids for the RIB’s were over $18 million. The city of Milton currently has $32,500,000 available for this project. Following the bid opening, city staff initiated meetings with the project engineer to identify potential cost savings that would not adversely affect the quality or efficiency of the plant. One of the most significant project cost savings identified was the relocation of the RIBs closer to the plant. A $13 to 15 million project savings must be considered so that construction can begin on this critical infrastructure project this year.

What happened to NAS Whiting Field participating in this project?

In the 1990s, NAS Whiting Field approached the city about using effluent to water their golf course. In 2006-2007 when planning for a new plant began in earnest, studies were conducted on the possibility of spraying the effluent onto the golf course. In 2010, after careful study and consideration, it was determined that the spray field concept would not work and other properties and disposal methods were evaluated. The North County property was identified and discussions with the county ensued.

If the South County property is used for the RIB’s, what will happen to the cemetery on the property?

If the South County site is utilized, the pipeline and RIB’s will not be built on or through the cemetery. The South County site is over 300 acres. The RIB’s require 100 acres. The cemetery is approximately 0.15 acres. The cemetery can be completely avoided and untouched by this project.

What will happen to the existing plant and current effluent?

The downtown plant will remain in operation for the immediate future. A pipeline from the existing plant to the new plant is currently under construction. Effluent will be piped from the existing plant to the new facility. When completed, 100% of the effluent will be removed from the Blackwater River. The city has to remove the discharge from the river because of the northward migration of saltwater beyond the point of discharge. When the total project is completed, the old plant will be closed, demolished, and the property put to reuse.

What happens if we don’t construct the new plant?

The impacts of not carrying out this project would be an economic and environmental disaster for Santa Rosa County. No new developments of any size or type that require a sewer connection can be permitted in East Milton. This includes major economic development projects slated for the various industrial parks. These projects bring jobs to the residents of Santa Rosa County. Failure of this project means over 6,000 homes in the area will not have the opportunity to convert from septic tank to sanitary sewer. This conversion removes direct contamination of untreated sewage from the groundwater. Fats, oils, greases, bacteria, viruses, medicines, cleaning products, and other harmful chemicals can all go directly from a septic tank, through the drainfield and into the groundwater, contaminating wells, and surface water.

The Northwest Florida Regional Water Reclamation provides the foundation for Santa Rosa County’s future population and economic growth and protection of the environment. Without additional wastewater treatment capacity, the county’s ability to recruit or expand businesses and industry is stymied. New residential developments will be required to utilize septic systems, expanding a real, existing threat to our natural environment. This new facility will serve our community well for the next 40-50 years. As Representative Jayer Williamson put it, "this is a silver bullet project."