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City secures $14M for sewer plant upgrade

By the end of 2024, the city of Apalachicola will be
operating a wastewater treatment plan better able to withstand hurricane-force
winds and flooding, at a lower cost for operations and maintenance.

That’s because the city is slated to receive $14 million in
federal funds through the Protecting Florida Together grant program administered
by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

At a Nov. 8 press conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis, joined by
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton, and
Chief Science Officer Dr. Mark Rains, announced awards of $481 million for 103
wastewater and springs projects throughout the state.

“The project will ultimately increase system resiliency and
efficiency and reduce operational and maintenance costs for years to come,”
wrote the city’s finance director, Leo Bebeau, in an August grant application
that updated a Nov. 2020 narrative that had been submitted by former Mayor
Kevin Begos, who passed away in June.

Commissioner Anita Grove assisted with information
concerning the bay and surrounding environment, and the city’s status as an Area
of Economic Concern status. Dewberry Engineering provided an updated engineer’s
cost estimate that reflected the increases in costs and materials in the nine
months since Nov. 2020.

The two-year, three-phase project will replace the existing headworks
and reactors with all new tanks and equipment placed above the high-risk AE 12
flood zone into zone X, considered moderate to low risk. This area, about 100
yards away and about seven feet higher in elevation, lies between the existing sequencing
batch reactor (SBR) and operations building and the power line easement that
crosses the property.

The SBR now used in the system was purchased used over 25
years ago from the city of Tampa.


“During Hurricane Michael, the (city’s) wastewater plant was
shut down because of flood vulnerability. Storm surge entered the plant grounds
damaging electrical and pump infrastructure,” Bebeau wrote. “The (plant) had to
be shut down during Hurricane Michael, causing sanitary sewer service for the
entire community to cease for several days. The plant sustained damage (and)
because of the site’s proximity to the waterfront, vulnerability will continue
to increase due to rising sea levels and future hurricane impacts. Unless this
project is implemented, the (city) and the natural environment risk
catastrophic flooding and sewage spillage during future disaster events.”

The application also notes that “Apalachicola citizens (are)
spending millions of dollars towards oyster farming and trying to rejuvenate
the aquaculture industry in the bay. Relocating (the plant) would lessen the risk
and could save years of work for the aquaculture industry.”

The application also noted that in 2017, the city completed an
analysis to determine its vulnerability to storm surge and sea level rise. “The
results of that study illustrated the alarming vulnerability of the town’s
critical facilities, infrastructure, property and historic commercial buildings,”
Bebeau wrote. “The model results indicated that a high inundation scenario
could impact more than 116 acres or 11 percent of the entire city.”

The new facility will meet Class I reliability, will be
designed for Category 5 hurricane force winds, and will have a design life of
at least 40 years with provision for replacement of certain mechanical motors
and equipment.

By replacing the headworks, which were deemed in eminent
threat of failure, the city will complete all of the conditions in DEP’s consent
order, and enable the city to qualify for a greater range of future state

The new components will be built while the existing facility
operates and will include new headworks with screening, screening
washer/compactor, high efficiency grit removal with grit washer/classifier,
offline flow equalization, biological treatment with new SBR tanks and
equipment, and post-SBR equalization.

The city’s engineering firm, Dewberry Engineers, Inc., has
developed plans that allow for a year of planning and design, and then a year
of construction. The project would have a proposed start date of Jan. 1, 2023
and estimated end date of Dec. 31, 2024, allowing a full two-year timeframe for

In an email, Bebeau wrote that as of Sept. 2020, the city
had water and sewer debt of $6.44 million, net of more than a half-million
dollars in savings that were achieved after Begos orchestrated a new loan at 0
percent interest.

During the year ended Sept. 30, 2021, the city made payments
of about $512,000 on this debt, leaving a current balance of $5.93 million,
Bebeau wrote.

The city’s recently adopted 2021-22 budget will collect
approximately $615,000 in charges for the SUF (sewer user fee). “As the SUF was
adopted to pay this debt, it should be expected for this fee to continue,” he
wrote. “Please note that a portion of this debt will not be paid off until

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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