By DOTTY NIST
Problems with potable water and concern for farmers with dirt to dispose of recently generated discussion among Walton County commissioners.
The discussion took place at the Oct. 22 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse.
District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman brought up a problem with potable water in the Douglass Cross Roads community. He explained that most people in the community get their drinking water from shallow wells and that problems exist with odor and hard water. Chapman said he had investigated what it would take to provide a water system in the community and had found that it would be a complicated process. He had met with the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD) and with other appropriate state agencies and had learned that it would be difficult to obtain funding for the project.
Chapman said he had contacted Walton County’s state legislative delegation and had found those legislators to be “receptive to our idea.”
“I’m not sure the governor is receptive,” he remarked.
Chapman said that Douglass Cross Roads is in the city of DeFuniak Springs’ franchise area and that he was told that 350 tie-ins or more would be the “breaking point” for it to be feasible for service to be extended to an area. He explained that he was only able to “stretch” the number of tie-ins to 261 and that some property owners would possibly decide not to tie on for water service.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows asked if it would be possible to include other adjoining areas with the project to increase the number of tie-ins. Chapman had researched this and said that doing so would add only about 30 additional homes.
He brought up the possibility of the county applying for a NWFWMD grant for the water system. This would make $3.5 million available for the project, but the downside would be that the grant would require 50-percent matching funds (approximately $1.7 million) from the county. Chapman added that it would not be feasible for DeFuniak Springs to maintain the system due to the small number of homes that would be on it, and he was doubtful that the county would want to “go into the water business.”
He asked if any of the other commissioners had ideas or could provide possible solutions to the problem.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander recognized the work that Chapman had done to research the issue. She said she saw no harm in applying for the grant.
District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld agreed. He suggested at least making the effort to obtain the grant while investigating possible funding from other sources. He moved to authorize Walton County Grants Coordinator Angie Biddle to apply for the NWFWMD grant. His motion was approved unanimously.
County Commission Chairman Kenneth Pridgen brought up another rural area-related matter. He urged for a look at how the county could relax code provisions in order to help farmers sell or otherwise dispose of dirt from their property.
Pridgen noted that the agriculture community would be able to supply dirt needed for the CR-2 road project, for example, avoiding the need to bring dirt in from distant areas. He added that property owners are able to get a permit to build a fish pond but then aren’t able to sell the excavated dirt due to county regulations.
Several years ago, in response to complaints about impacts of widespread unpermitted excavation activity and related businesses, Walton County adopted a mining ordinance. The ordinance regulates properties used for extraction of materials that are then processed and offered for sale. The ordinance requires a mining permit for this type of activity.
For the dirt that could be supplied for road projects, Pridgen said he was not suggesting borrow pits—but that dirt could be removed from higher elevations in agricultural land use areas.
Chapman commented that a constituent in his district has “super duper dirt,” exactly the kind needed for construction projects, that the property owner wants to extract. He explained that doing that would be considered commercial activity and that therefore it would be cost prohibitive to extract the dirt due to county regulations. Chapman added that a person with 15-20 acres of land who wants to build a small pond is prohibited from doing anything with the excavated dirt than storing it on their own property. He suggested “massaging” the code to allow for extraction and removal of dirt in instances such as these.
Comander commented that care would be needed if the county proceeded in this direction. She recalled that the county had worked very hard to see that borrow pits were regulated.
Imfeld questioned what procedure would be used to” factor in” what was being proposed into bids for projects.
Meadows questioned what would be the reaction from companies that the county has issued permits to provide these materials.
County Administrator Larry Jones brought up the possibility of setting up a temporary permit for extraction of a specific amount of material from a specific location during a specific time period.
Meadows brought up concerns for residents on neighboring properties, who would be subject to impacts from dump trucks while the material was being removed. She also asked who would be responsible for inspecting property after the dirt was removed in order to make sure that the area was reclaimed.
Addressing the BCC, Kevin Chilcutt explained that he was in exactly the same situation that was discussed of wanting to build a pond on his official farm property and being faced with how to dispose of the dirt. He thanked the commissioners for addressing the issue.
County Attorney Mark Davis was asked to research the matter and bring back information.
The meeting concluded with King Lake resident William Webster addressing the commissioners on the existence of a dangerous situation in connection with the lake spill pipe, which is open with no grate over the pipe. Webster presented a petition calling for the situation to be remedied.
Jones responded that he had spoken with the NWFWMD about the safety issue. He told the commissioners that the lake is privately owned and that it is the responsibility of the owner to take action on the matter. Jones said the county had put up a sign to notify the public of the open spill pipe, and a picture of the sign was displayed.