After several months of ongoing discussions and negotiations, the city of Gulf Breeze, the Holley-Navarre Water System and Santa Rosa County have come to a “historic” agreement that will shape the future of regional wastewater treatment in Northwest Florida.


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The agreement was finalized after Gulf Breeze gave its final approval on Monday night. Santa Rosa County and the HNWS both approved the memorandum of agreement at their respective March meetings.


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The agreement essentially combines the desires of HNWS and Santa Rosa County to stream the majority of their wastewater to a leased spray field on Eglin Air Force Base with Gulf Breeze’s desire to treat water to reclaimed standards and provide cheap, environmentally friendly water for customers


“This (memorandum of agreement) marks a historic win for Northwest Florida,” said Samantha Abell, Gulf Breeze city manager. “Significantly, we think that Gov. (Ron) DeSantis and our legislators are going to be able to stand behind this three-party agreement as an example of large-scale regionalism, and how to reclaim and provide an important, affordable resource for citizens.”


The four-phase plan includes:


— Phase I: The design, permitting and construction of the Eglin RIBS (Rapid Infiltration Basin System) on leased Eglin Air Force land, with the capacity to serve the planned needs of the HNWS in the future. Phase I also includes laying connecting pipes from the HNWS treatment plant on Pepper Drive to the Eglin property. The approximately $20 million project will be paid for by RESTORE funds.


— Phase II: The design, permitting and construction of a pipe from the Navarre Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant to the Pepper Drive plant, allowing the county to stop discharging its effluent into Navarre Beach and instead send its wastewater through the Pepper Drive plant and up to the Eglin RIBS site.


— Phase III: Constructing a pipe to connect the city of Gulf Breeze's water with Holley-Navarre Water System's water, as well as constructing new facilities and upgrading existing facilities like pumps and control rooms to facilitate connecting the two utilities. This guarantees a minimum of 200,000 gallons of water a day and a maximum of 500,000 gallons of water a day will flow from HNWS to the city of Gulf Breeze for the express purpose of being treated to 99.99% clarity and used as reclaimed water. This portion will be funded by grants and will be done at no cost to the city.


— Phase IV: Upgrading the Navarre Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant to reclaimed water standards, so that it can eventually send water to Gulf Breeze as well.


The first phase of the multi-year, multi-million dollar project is expected to get underway as early as May.


The three major south Santa Rosa County utilities were at an impasse at the end of last year after not being able to come to an agreement about how to create a sustainable wastewater infrastructure plan for the entire region. Santa Rosa County had committed to stop discharging its effluent from the Navarre Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant, and Holley-Navarre Water Systems said that it has until November 2022 before it reaches full capacity and can no longer support new customers.


The county and HNWS originally were in talks to move forward with a plan that excluded the Fairpoint Regional Utility System, owned by the city of Gulf Breeze, from connecting into its pipes, saying that the plan would only benefit the city of Gulf Breeze. After talks at the state level with Rep. Alex Andrade and the Northwest Florida Water Management District, the utilities came to an understanding that makes all three parties happy.


The new agreement means that the FRUS will be able to offer cheap reclaimed water to more customers for lawn irrigation and will have a better supply to sustain its operations during dry periods of time.


It also means that the county will be able to stop discharging its effluent from the Santa Rosa Sound and instead send it up to the Eglin land.


Additionally, if the project is completed in time, HNWS — which provides wastewater treatment for most of the southern end of the county — will be able to accommodate an expanding customer base and allow for continued growth.


For at least 20 years, Santa Rosa County has been going back and forth with the federal government over leasing land on Eglin Air Force Base to dispose of treated effluent. The county finally reached an agreement in August 2019 to lease 200 acres of land at Eglin for a total of $210,000 for a 25-year lease.


The project to get excess effluent to Eglin involves laying several miles of pipelines from various water treatment plants in the county to the Eglin property.


The county is working to secure RESTORE funding to pay for the project, and Northwest Florida Water Management District is paying for part of the project as well.


Annie Blanks can be reached at ablanks@pnj.com or 850-435-8632.