On January 22, 2020 I attended the Choctawhatchee Bay Estuary Coalition (CBEC) meeting in Chipley. The Coalition is bringing together local governments of two States to work collectively on processes that will 1. Improve water quality, 2. Protect and replenish coastal habitats and marine resources, 3. Enhance resiliency of local economies, and 4. Help protect the Gulf of Mexico. The Choctawhatchee River and Bay watershed covers over 3 million acres in Alabama and Florida. At 37%, Walton County holds the largest proportion of the Florida watershed.
These Coalitions used to be administered by the EPA. But in Florida, they are funded thru what is known as “Pot 2” money, part of a resource known as the RESTORE ACT that was a result of the fines paid by BP Oil after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. From the U.S. Treasury Department website:
On July 6, 2012, the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act) established the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund in the U.S. Treasury Department. Eighty percent of the civil penalties paid after July 6, 2012, under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will be deposited into the Trust Fund and invested. Under the Act, amounts in the Trust Fund will be available for programs, projects, and activities that restore and protect the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast region.Read more
In December 2018, Senator George Gainer and Representative Brad Drake came to DeFuniak Springs to hold a Legislative Delegation. These meetings were being held around the State ahead of the 2019 Legislative Session so that local elected officials, business leaders and citizens may speak directly with the people who represent us at the Capitol. On that day in Walton County, only one Commissioner spoke, and it was to ask that any bill that would require inspections and repairs of septic systems be voted against.
SB 214 would instruct the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) to create an updated, accurate record of all on site waste disposal and septic systems in the State. In addition, for the first time it would require that each of these be inspected every five years, and mandate that repairs be taken to failing and inadequate systems. We know from water quality monitors in the Choctawhatchee Bay that these failing and inadequate septic systems are directly fouling our water, and mandating repairs would have a positive impact on reducing the pollution in the Bay.
Every Commissioner is on record as saying that cleaning up the Bay is a top priority. But it is important to pay attention to what they are doing to actually bring change.
According to FDOH records, there are 43,767 sites in Walton County that produce wastewater, and only 17,944 are on a sewer system. That means we have over 25,000 on site waste treatment and septic systems in our county alone. Contrast this number, with 35,000, which is the total for Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties, combined.
The way the bill is written, homeowners would be responsible for the costs of inspection and repairs. I understand that folks are often times living paycheck to paycheck, and a big bill can often mean the difference between home ownership and homelessness. I am not advocating for more fines and taxes on the good people of Walton County. But how short sighted is it to say let’s just not fix a massive problem? You have the full attention of your reps who are going to Tallahassee to fight for you. Why not offer some innovative ideas about how to help homeowners with the costs of bringing these systems into compliance? Why not advocate for increased funding to keep bringing homes on line with a sewer system that adequately treats waste instead of letting it seep into the ground, fouling our fragile coastal dune lakes, our Bay, and eventually our drinking water?
I know about this meeting, and this testimony, because I attended this meeting. And my plan is to continue to work to fix our problems in this beautiful place that we call home. Let’s connect and talk about solutions. I want to earn your vote, and get to work to represent you.