Story and photos by STACY MARTIN
This past Thursday (Feb. 25) the Freeport City Council held its regular meeting at city hall. In attendance were Mayor Russ Barley and Council members Elizabeth Brannon, Eddie Farris, Elizabeth Haffner, and Mark Martin. The meeting was called to order, and the council began with a request from Tedd Barr from the Freeport Little League Athletic Association (FLLAA) for a fee waiver request. Barr stated that the FLLAA has 287 children signed up for this year. The league is still recovering from its financial loss last year due to COVID-19 and is seeking a waiver from the council. Council member Haffner motioned for approval of the fee waiver, with a second from Farris, and the motion carried. March 27 is the opening day for the league this year.
The council then approved the consent agenda and the regular agenda with items added. Starting with staff reports, the Sewer Department presented the council with quotes for a spare pump that will work in three different city locations. The estimate is for $16,590 from Tugwell Pump & Supply. The council approved the request unanimously.
The next items addressed were from the City Manager Charlie Simmons on an appropriation change. Simmons requested the appropriations for the wastewater sewer expansion dollar amount should increase from $500,000 to $1 million. A motion to ratify the change with the documentation that the city will have to attest to the need for the $1 million and to authorize staff to make all the necessary reports to support the request was made by Haffner and seconded by Council member Brannon. The motion carried unanimously.
The next item on the agenda was a request for ratification of the Alternative Water Supply Grant. The city has been pursuing a series of grants that compliments the projects of the U.S. 331 Corridor with the Bay initiative projects of converting properties from septic to city water. One grant is the Alternative Water Supply Grant which is a matching grant and covers projects focused on improving various water quality issues such as reclaimed water, water conservation, stormwater, surface water, brackish groundwater, desalination, other non-traditional sources. Simmons informed the council of the collaborative efforts with the city and county, specifically with District 1 Commissioner William “Boots” McCormick, who spoke at the night’s meeting to support the Bay Initiative project. Simmons also highlighted the FL. Governor Ron DeSantis’ announcement to prioritize a $100 million project as part of the proposed budget to help eliminate pollution in Florida’s natural waterways by converting septic to the city sewer. The council voted unanimously in favor of the request. McCormick addressed the council, stating, “This was a project I was behind a few years back from the start of this. So I’m just here to express to this board my personal commitment in what I can to see this project through.”
Simmons then presented a request to change the disconnect policy, stating that reconnect is only available for same-day-service if payment is received in full by 5 p.m. that day. “No doubt we are in the customer service business, and I want to take care of everything, but I also was to help take care of my staff,” states Simmons. Council voted in favor of the request, and notices will be issued to customers.
Simmons then gave the council updates on an upgrade for city phones with recoded lines for the billing, water, and planning. A motion to approve the new recorded line for the customer service departments except for administration was approved unanimously by the council.
The last item discussed at length to the council was Simmons’ interest in addressing the city’s blight issues, working with WCSO Lieutenant Paula Pendleton. Some initiatives stem from the WCSO clean-up project in Villa Tasso to provide clean-up services to residents. The project idea would call to utilize the city, county, and community volunteers for a day of cleanup services for residents using the five dumpsters purchased by the city.
Latilda Hughes-Neel with the city’s planning department presented a revised plat request for the Marina Village Phase IV development from the Planning Department. Hughes-Neel stated the legal counsel for the development’s revised language regarding a common area stormwater facility to the north of the project. Motion for approval was made by Council member Martin and seconded by Haffner; the motion carried unanimously.
Hughes-Neel also updated the council regarding the county’s traffic mobility plan, stating the Mobility Plan fees will impact new development by collecting fees similar to fire impact fees collected at the building permit stage. These fees will create a revenue stream for projects on the city’s capital improvement projects. Another update was on the grant with the Choctawhatchee Bay Estuary Coalition CBEC. A new pilot program opportunity through the DEP for bringing stormwater infrastructure proposals such as vegetative bio-swells, bio-retention cells, tree boxes, and other projects, which could be implemented at Marse Landing at Four Mile Creek. The grant covers the design and construction and asks the city for funds to contribute to coving materials. The grant also requires an educational component with monitoring the project for three years. More information will be brought back to the council in March.
From Engineering, Alex Rouchaleau with Dewberry presented the bids received for the city’s WWTF upgrade. Rouchaleau stated that the proposals were over budget; the lowest bid was just over $27 million. A request for a motion was made to reject all bids exceeding the allowable funds available and hold a special council meeting to discuss options and a plan going forward. The council approved the request and set March 2 at 4 p.m. for the special meeting.
Engineering also resented the SCOP Municipal Grant application, which is due in March. The SCOP grant assists small municipalities with repairing road-related issues. The grant will go towards resurfacing improvement for South Jackson Street. Council approved the request unanimously.
From the public, Cliff Knauer with Dewberry Engineers discussed the bio-swells and bio-retention new technology and new testing. Knauer said that the nutrients that are bad for the waterways include nitrogen nitrates, phosphorus, and iron. Knauer recently designed and permitted the new landfill on Rock Hill Road last year to use “Constructed Wetlands” or artificial wetlands planted with 6,000 Broadleaf Cattails. These cattails take up a majority of the iron, nitrates, and phosphorus from the landfill as part of the treatment method. Knauer said the grant with the CBEC program mentioned in connection with Marse Landing would help elevate the water quality before discharge into Four Mile Creek. “That is what a bio-swell and bio-retention are. It’s all about the plants uptaking nutrients before discharge,” stated Knauer.
The next Freeport city council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 9, at 9 a.m. in city hall.