MILTON — Residents Diane and Gary Nelms are working to stop red clay from polluting the waterway behind their Indian Bayou home, where they have lived for 10 years.
“It’s disgusting,” Gary said. “It’s never been this bad. We are disgusted with the government right now.”
Diane said that it’s disheartening to see fish and grass die due to red clay pollution from local construction. According to Gary, it’s been years since anyone in the neighborhood has caught a fish in the bayou that used to be abundant with anglers.
A few small creeks feed into Indian Bayou, which then feeds into Escambia Bay. One of the creeks runs under Interstate 10, which Diane and Gary said is one of the reasons for the pollution. Construction on Interstate 10 brought about red clay, which then leached into the creek and eventually into the bayou.
According to the couple, another reason for the pollution is the constant grading of a nearby unpaved road, San Juan Road, which is composed of red clay. Santa Rosa County Public Works Director Stephen Furman said the cost to pave San Juan Road would be $128,000; however, Diane said she hasn't heard from the county since April about this possible solution.
Another reason for red clay leaching into Indian Bayou are piles of red clay left on a property across the bayou from the Nelms’ home. The couple said someone had purchased the property and planned to build on it; they reportedly hauled in several large piles of red clay, which then sat there for months without anything being built. Eventually, the property was up for sale again and much of the clay washed into Indian Bayou during rain or high tide.
Diane and Gary said they have been in contact with many organizations to try to rectify the problems, including Northwest Florida Water Management District, the Army Corps of Engineers, Santa Rosa County Public Works, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Transportation and County Commissioner Sam Parker.
According to the couple, these entities haven’t offered much assistance; they said that were told by the county that there wasn’t money in the budget to have this problem fixed, but they would try to fit it into next year’s fiscal budget.
Diane said that Parker visited the bayou and said the county should dredge the area; Parker is the real estate agent assigned to the property across from the Nelms' home. As of this writing, Parker has not responded to a Press Gazette reporter’s July 12 email and phone call on the issue.
According to Jim Lamar, the director of communications for Northwest Florida Water Management District, the organization is working with local partners — the county and FDEP — to come up with a solution for the long-term health of Indian Bayou.
Stephen Furman, the Santa Rosa County Public Works director said, “Santa Rosa County is aware of the situation occurring in Indian Bayou. We have taken measures along the nearest county-maintained road to control sedimentation.
“While no efforts can be expected to be 100 percent effective during all rain events, our efforts toward controlling sediment have been very effective. The county Road and Bridge Department is pursuing possible funding sources to implement additional measures to aid in the reduction of sediment into this bayou.”
According to Brandy Smith, external affairs manager for the Northwest District of Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the department is aware of the issue and has been in contact with residents in the area regarding their concerns.
“Our inspectors have visited the area on multiple occasions and we continue to coordinate with the Water Management District and our local partners to address the issue,” Smith said.
Diane and Gregory Nelms created “Save Our Wetlands,” a Facebook group that alerts members of the community and the neighborhood about the pollution and progress they have made in rectifying the issue.
“We are all here because of the water,” Gary said. “If I [polluted the water] as a homeowner, they would probably come down my neck and fine me to death, but the government is the worst offender…
“The buck stops somewhere."