By LEAH STRATMANN
Since retiring from the Air Force and moving to Mossy Head, Tom Terrell has been high on the water works and even higher on Walton County. The year was 1978, the same year the Mossy Head Water Works came into being and Terrell has been president of the district since that time. Two years ago, they even started paying him for his work.
“I came on board as the uncompensated president/volunteer in 1978. The job kept my mind moving and gave me something to look forward to. I wanted this area to grow, but I wanted to be ready for the growth. My primary goal was to get everybody fire protection,” Terrell said.
At the time the water works came into being, Terrell said quite a few of the wells in the area were going dry and many of the citizens, now numbering about 8,000, approached state representatives about the problem. State solons put the citizens in touch with the right agency to provide them a grant to dig a well capable of handling the number of people that needed to get on the system.
Last week, Mossy Head Water Works broke ground for a $4.6 million dollar project that upgrades the existing water lines and provides for a new 250,000-storage tank and 145 fire hydrants. “When this project is finished all of the customers should be within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant,” Terrell noted.
The latest expansion started in 1997, with the first phase providing water to the Oakwood Hills subdivision. In 2000, phase two took the system west to the county line and to the north to Richardson and Laird Road in the northeast quadrant of Mossy Head. The final phase improves the entire operation while adding the hydrants.
“Funding came from a United States Department of Agriculture rural development grant loan with a 40-year payment plan. The initial loan, which started the upgrade, has been paid off,” Terrell said, “but we are still paying the loans for phases one and two. We are heavily in debt.”
Terrell is still more than optimistic about the future. “It took two years from the start of initial paperwork to get the money for the increase in services and Terrell anticipates the project will be completed by August or September of this year.
“One of the things people don’t understand about our system here is we are blessed because our water comes right out of the Florida aquifer. The only thing we have to do to this water after we pull it out of the ground is to add chlorine. It is about as pure a water as you can get, but it is not an inexhaustible supply. We need to be looking at some other sources of water. I have lobbied the Board of County Commissioners for 15 years to do some studies of where to find other sources of water. With the growth in the county and saltwater intrusion in some of the coastal wells, alternative sources of water must be found,” Terrell declared. Right now Mossy Head Water Works is drawing water from three wells.
“The main thing I’ve tried to do is plan for the future growth that is coming to this area. I thought we had done it with phase two, but the industrial park and the Blackstone Subdivision caught me off-guard,” Terrell confessed. “The original plans for the subdivision called for 2,800 single-family units plus the golf course.
“All those houses coming in would have been a boon for the water district, but the economy has delayed construction. The golf course should be open by the end of the summer. Eventually the houses will be built,” Terrell said.
Terrell is proud of how far the water district has come over the years. “We are members of the Florida Rural Water Association and we have won every award they offer. We won the best-tasting water in the state of Florida and second in the nation. What we have accomplished is tremendous. When I took over as president we had about $26,000 in the bank. At the last audit our cash on hand was $750,000. I think that speaks highly of the capabilities of the people here and managing the resources we have,” he enthused.
Terrell has served on just about every county committee that has volunteers and for the last 10 years has served on the planning commission, which is a significant contribution in preparation and travel time for the 75-year old, who is chock- full of boyish charm and enthusiasm.
“I am totally committed to Walton County,” said the Memphis, TN. native. “I think we have the most potential of any county in Florida. When you compare 20 years ago to today, we have really come a long way. As long as we keep our eye on progress without overbuilding, we will be fine. Trying to back up to catch up does not work. The Base Realignment Committee (BRAC) plan provides a golden opportunity for Walton County. It will take some guts and stepping out on faith to get it done, but Niceville and Crestview are just about maxed out. What better place than Mossy Head?”
Leah Stratmann can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.