Getting a water treatment plant built in White City has been a priority of the county’s since Hurricane Michael, said Clayton Smallwood, the County’s engineer.
The storm wiped out the LUCI 1 water plant on Cape San Blas, knocking one of the storage tanks off of its foundation and leaving the cape without water for several weeks. Even after the system was brought back online, LUCI 1 had to undergo numerous improvements before it was able to sustain the cape’s growing population.
Smallwood fears another big storm could cause an even greater water shortage.
“It’s just that right now, all our storage is either on the cape or within 100 feet of the bay,” Smallwood said. “So we want to move that out of the storm surge. So out of the flood zone, get it and drag it to where our plant is going to be able to produce water, even in the worst of times. And we can, you know, keep folks with water.”
“It makes no sense to rebuild right on the coast, something that important from an infrastructure standpoint, when you know, at some point, again, it’s going to happen, and you got to spend another million dollars fixing it,” he continued.
Smallwood hopes that a recent announcement from the Governor’s office could allow them to receive state funding for the project.
On Dec. 8, Gov. Ron Desantis, along with Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton, announced a Flooding Resilience Plan, consisting of a list of projects across the state, which, if the plan is approved in the upcoming legislative session, will receive funding from the state.
The White City water plant is on that list, along with one other Gulf County project aimed at relocating the county’s wastewater treatment facility.
“The plan is part of Senate Bill 1954, signed by Governor DeSantis earlier this year, which ensures a coordinated approach to Florida’s coastal and inland resilience and provides a structure for resilience that follows the best available science and data while enhancing efforts to protect inland and coastal resources that act as natural defenses against sea-level rise,” read a press release from the Governor’s Office.
Senate Bill 1954 will go before the state legislature in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 14.
The three-year plan, if passed, would be part of Florida’s attempt to mitigate some of the impacts of rising sea levels, and it would have a $270 million price tag.
More than $36 million would go to Gulf County.
While many of the 76 total projects statewide involved building stormwater pumps and living shorelines to resist storm surge, both of Gulf County’s projects aimed to move vital resources out of harm’s way.
“That’s a much wiser investment from our standpoint, and gives us reliability,” said Smallwood. “And the fact is, also, we’re going to need more water that keeps continuing to grow. We’re selling more water this year than we’ve ever sold. And so we’ve got to get another source of water.”
“And so it just makes the most sense not to drill another well on the coast. You have, again, the damage from storms, but you also have saltwater intrusion. It’s always a real possibility.”
Smallwood and other Gulf County officials are scheduled to go to Tallahassee on Jan. 19 to advocate for projects like the White City plant among other county needs.