Officials eye FEMA grant to fix water facility woes

Commissioners hope to solve problems at Paradise Point, Port Buena Vista plants

Still feeling the effects of Hurricane Matthew, Putnam County officials gave their approval to apply for hazard mitigation a grant to resolve issues with a pair of antiquated facilities.

During their meeting Tuesday, county commissioners unanimously gave the green light to apply for a state Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to mitigate damage done to Paradise Point and Port Buena Vista wastewater plants.

The discussion was an emergency item – and wasn’t on the agenda – because the deadline to apply for the grants is June 9, but the Board of County Commissioners wouldn’t meet again until June 13.

Public Works Director Press Tompkins said his department is applying for about $4 million, which would allow Paradise Point near the Dunns Creek area and Lake Buena Vista near County Road 207A in East Palatka to be taken offline and have master pumps installed to pump sewage to the East Putnam Wastewater System in East Palatka.

Paradise Point and Port Buena Vista “actually went underwater during (the) hurricane,” Tompkins said. “So we would reduce the nutrients going to the river. It would give us a lot more sustainable system that we can actually take care of sewage and pump it to a treatment plant.”

Tompkins said his department has been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on hazard mitigation grants since Matthew brushed over the area in October.

The $4 million prize he hopes to receive comes at the cost of the county putting up a 25 percent match. But commissioners and Tompkins agreed the benefits of deactivating the two plants are worth finding money and resources to match.

“I thought it was prudent that we do make the application and see where we stand with it,” Tompkins said.

Commission Chairman Larry Harvey said deactivating the plants would help make the St. Johns River healthier.

The county has applied for St. Johns River Water Management District cost share programs to run pipe to Paradise Point. Harvey said the infrastructure could be used as a match for a better chance of receiving the mitigation grant.

“I think it’s important to our river that we do the best we can for it by reducing those nutrients that are going into the river,” he said.

Tompkins and Commissioner Chip Laibl said the damaged wastewater plants are a problem the county never created.

Private companies built them in the 1960s or early 1970s, Laibl said, but when the companies went bankrupt, the state made the county responsible for future operations and repairs.

“We’ve got millions of dollars in both of them,” Laibl said. We didn’t want them to begin with, and it’s very unfair how we acquired them.”

If the county were able to pump sewage from those stations to the primary station on Gilbert Road in East Palatka, homes and businesses up to the Dunns Creek Bridge would be connected to the East Putnam Wastewater System, Laibl said.

And by doing so, officials said, the East Putnam system would finally pay for itself – and relieve some of the county’s financial burden.

“It’s a game changer,” acting County Attorney Stacie Poppell said. “It could be the turning point that begins to make that (East Putnam Wastewater System) fund self-sufficient and not needing help from the (Better Place Plan) or the general fund.”

Palatka Daily News

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