County pursues grant to control Indian Bayou runoff

Alicia Adams

MILTON — Santa Rosa County Commissioners voted Thursday to apply for a grant through the Northwest Florida Water Management District for permanent erosion control measures in the Indian Bayou drainage basin. 

Last fall, the NWFWMD presented the county with the opportunity to request funding for erosion control measures in the Indian Bayou watershed. The amount of funding is not firmly established but is likely in the $10,000 range, according to county staff. 

Staff identified the paving of a 300-foot section of San Juan Street, between North 14th Avenue to North 15th Avenue, as a potential project to be accomplished with the funds. The district has indicated that additional money may be available to extend the paving up North 15th Avenue to the single residence on this street. 

Santa Rosa’s Public Works Director Stephen Furman said this project may be the start of a solution to the larger erosion control efforts in the Avalon Beach area. The paving of all the red clay roads in the area would cost $1.5 million. 

According to staff, the paving project will likely exceed the available funding from the NWFWMD grant. Any shortfalls of funding staff recommends covering with currently unallocated Local Option Sales Tax district road paving revenues. The potential shortfall is unknown, but would likely not exceed $15,000. 

Some residents have urged the county in recent months to purchase the parcels on the red clay roads and let the area return to its natural wetland state. 

"Some folks are not going to be satisfied unless we close the roads and start acquiring all of Avalon Beach and return them to wetlands," Commissioner Sam Parker said at Thursday’s meeting. "I'm not sure the board wants to go down that road." 

Commissioner Rob Williamson was cautious of accepting the grant from the water management district, saying that the board needs to know exact costs involved and should expect additional help form the state. 

Commission Chairman Bob Cole said the county could work with state representatives such as Rep. Jayer Williamson and Sen. Doug Broxson to look at funding options available to restore natural systems such as these. 

Furman said county personnel from the public works and grants departments would submit an open-ended letter pursuing the funding from the NWFWMD and bring an actual agreement back to the BOCC for future consideration. 

Residents of Monterey Shores, a neighborhood south of Interstate 10 on Indian Bayou, have been urging local and state government to take control of the red clay pollution for nearly two years. Resident Diane Nelms emailed Shawn Hamilton of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Wednesday detailing the continued issues and attaching photos of the damage, but has yet to receive a reply. 

“The red clay has continued and we now have a shallower inlet and quite a sizable island forming from the feeder creek,” Nelms wrote. “There is no denying that red clay pollutants have severely damaged and continues to pollute our waters. What’s it going to take to stop the polluting and to clean it up?” 

Resident Greg Barnes took photos with a drone Feb. 8 and 10, after the latest rain event that shows the presence of red clay in the bayou. FDEP, the agency in charge of the sedimentation issue, received the photos  but residents have not received a reply. Parker received the photos as well and forwarded them to the rest of the board.

“I know the speed of government is slow but I am committed to trying to make the situation better,” Parker said.