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Florida's panhandle communities are getting more than $90 million for septic, stormwater and wastewater systems

 FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. file photo, rescue personnel perform a search in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.
Gerald Herbert
FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. file photo, rescue personnel perform a search in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.

The state is pouring more than $90 million into the Florida panhandle to address aging and damaged stormwater treatment and sewer systems. In some cities, the grants are equal to nearly half their budgets.

Much of that funding, about $60 million, is being pumped into cities and towns in Jackson County. The city of Marianna is getting the largest share with two grants worth about $19 million. Marianna City Manager Jim Dean said the grants will help fix the city’s stormwater system in order to keep polluted water from going into the nearby Chipola River.

“Not only does it help our community in Jackson County, but that river is a pristine waterway. It flows through Calhoun County and down to Gulf County where Port St. Joe takes its drinking water. So it’s not just about our community, it’s about the whole region," Dean said during a recent during a press conference in Marianna hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis to announce the grants.

Communities like Marianna continue to work on repairing water and sewer systems damaged by Hurricane Michael. Most of the counties in the panhandle are considered fiscally constrained, meaning they cannot raise enough money through local taxes to support major infrastructure and other building projects and have to rely heavily on the state for such funding.

The money is coming from Rebuild Florida—a program under the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity that was set up to help areas of the state rebuild from recent hurricanes. The money in the panhandle will address issues such as converting the entire town of Alford from septic to sewer. Leaky septic tanks have long been a cause of pollution for the state’s aquifer, rivers, and streams.

“These projects that will be funded by these awards will include everything from improving wastewater to sanitary sewer, to improving drinking water and stormwater systems," DeSantis said.

For small towns like Sneads and Malone, which are slated to get funding too, the grants are almost equal to, or half of their annual budgets. Sneads received $5.6 million from the state. Its annual budget is $5.5 million. Malone’s budget is $6.5 million, and it got a $3-million-dollar grant.

Even before Hurricane Michael, many of North Florida’s rural communities had aging and crumbing sewer and wastewater, sewer and stormwater systems with repair costs far beyond what those communities could afford to pay themselves.

The grantees are:

  • Town of Alford ($13,879,500)- to construct a city-wide septic to sewer remodel. 
  • City of Marianna ($11,195,475)- to rehabilitate the City’s stormwater drainage system.
  • City of Marianna ($7,191,760)- to replace approximately 24,150 linear feet of needed potable water main pipes.
  • City of Blountstown ($9,933,954)- to repair damage to the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.
  • City of Wewahitchka ($8,500,000) - to conduct city-wide wastewater system repairs.
  • Town of Grand Ridge ($7,508,451)- to install emergency generators and SCADA communications systems to the Town’s lift stations.
  • Town of Grand Ridge ($1,017,050)- to replace the emergency generators at two potable water wells and install a SCADA communications system to the Potable Water System. 
  • City of Bristol ($6,869,018)- to make wastewater and stormwater improvements.
  • City of Graceville ($6,347,700)- to support sanitary sewer system hardening and resiliency.
  • City of Graceville ($2,431,500)- to support Graceville Fire Rescue Station relocation and reconstruction.
  • Town of Sneads ($3,629,750)- to make restoration improvements and repairs throughout the Town’s wastewater treatment and transmission systems.  
  • Town of Sneads ($1,907,925)- to support critical transportation and drainage infrastructure restoration project.
  • Town of Malone ($3,041,300)- to construct city-wide stormwater improvements.
  • Town of Campbellton ($2,998,625)- to rehabilitate the City’s stormwater drainage system.
  • Town of Vernon ($1,674,622)- to install emergency generators and communications systems to the City’s lift stations.
  • City of Jacob City ($1,412,073)- to upgrade drainage ditches city-wide and pave two eroded roadways.
  • City of Gretna ($750,000)- to replace the City’s Ground Storage Tank.
  • Town of Wausau ($407,542)- to replace the stormwater drainage culvert system and restore the damaged and undermined pavement and road base on 2nd Avenue.
  • Town of Wausau ($330,110)- to support potable water system hardening and resiliency.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.