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Santa Rosa commissioners to tackle chronic flooding

Santa Rosa Stormwater flooding
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Santa Rosa County Commissioners discussed stormwater mitigation Thursday.

Santa Rosa County commissioners on Thursday discussed how best to spend $31 million from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The discussion also included using local prisoners to clean and clear ditches and the estimated 380 retention ponds in the county.

District 3 Commissioner James Calkins said the county’s goal is to have no flooding issues. District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker agreed: “It needs to be a top priority.”

While tens of millions of dollars are needed to be spent to reduce flooding in the county, commissioners have tough choices. Commissioners recently approved a five-year plan to study how best to accommodate traffic on Woodbine Road, one of the most highly traveled county roads. Any new design will include stormwater ponds along the north-south road that dead-ends on U.S. 90 in Pace.

District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole said his priority are impassable roads, not homeowners who have standing water in their yard.

While county officials are developing a plan to spend the federal money — a plan could be given to the board in December — Cole suggested putting local inmates to work clearing brush and debris from drains and retention ponds. He said the county spends more on inmates than on school children.

“It’s time they earned their keep,” Cole said.

That’s when Calkins suggested the state bring back chain gangs: “Let’s get our prisoners to work!”

Calkins went on to say that taxpayers pay for air conditioning in jails and prisons, but soldiers in Iraq go without air conditioning while living in tents. He said the county should encourage the local state delegation to pass laws next year that would get prisoners to work while serving their sentences.

Brad Baker, assistant county administrator and emergency management director, suggested county officials need to look at the county as an entire water basin and that regional retention ponds might be a solution.

Commissioners also discussed whether the recently passed land development code could be amended to privatize retention ponds in new subdivisions meaning the homeowners association would be responsible for maintenance.

Milton activist and government watchdog Jerry Couey thanked the board for taking flooding seriously. He said scores of county residents over the years have asked the board to address the countywide issue.

Couey also cautioned the board — District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright of Gulf Breeze was absent — to make sure any new subdivisions have adequate stormwater drainage.

“We have to stop stubbing our toe on future projects,” Couey said, adding retention ponds must be large enough and deep enough to handle runoff. “When new subdivisions are planned, make sure it’s done right the first time.”

The board’s next meeting is 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in the county administrative complex on U.S. 90 behind McDonald’s.