The City of Newberry will fund a $50,000 report on behalf of multiple cities in an effort to move forward the exploration of a regional wastewater facility in western Alachua County.
In a presentation delivered at the Joint Water and Climate Policy Board meeting on Monday, Newberry City Manager Mike New shared the details of how growing populations are driving the demand for planning a future wastewater treatment facility.
By 2025, New projected a 5 percent population growth would equate to 8,772 residents in the City of Newberry and, by 2030, population could reach 11,195. Even if the population growth rate is at 3 percent, that would mean 9,237 residents in the City of Newberry by 2030.
The idea for a regional wastewater treatment facility has developed over the past five years, New said. Once Mayor Jordan Marlowe got involved and solicited buy-in from adjacent municipalities, New said the idea gained traction.
The project is in response to the growth in population which affects the capacity of the current treatment facilities, New said.
If the five small cities in western Alachua County join forces, they can easier fund the cost of the project using a larger tax base, explained New as he cited that along with economic benefits, a joint effort could also facilitate regulatory compliance with fewer systems to evaluate and financial saving from the reduced cost of meeting those regulations.
The outcome would be savings for residents and customers, New said.
"We have a lot of communities in western Alachua County that maintain wastewater plants but they are all at a basic level of treatment, and a driving factor for us is if we can pool our flows and our customer base," New said. "Then we might pull off a single treatment facility that offers a significantly higher level of treatment. We could probably never do that if we remain independent."
New said that the steps to creating a regional partnership start with identifying stakeholders and their common needs, and then evaluating the options before negotiating any agreements and then implementing a plan.
A big important step is evaluating the options, New said. Of the 10 cities that Newberry reached out to—Fort White, High Springs, Bell, Newberry, Trenton, Fanning Springs, Archer, Chiefland, Bronson and Williston—four have expressed interest in exploring the regional wastewater treatment facility. Those municipalities are High Springs, Trenton, Archer and Newberry.
"They're commissions have authorized staff to explore what regional treatment means for their community and how it might benefit them," New said. "But none have committed to: 'We are going to do this.'"
A facilities planning document would outline how to expand the facility, New said, adding that Newberry's consultant will do a report on the expansion for Newberry and another report with the inclusion of the interested municipalities for an additional $50,000 fee.
Since the cost for the consultant fee seemed to be an impetus for potential partnering cities to commit to the regional facility, the Newberry Commission decided to fund the report.
Current partners in exploring the regional wastewater treatment facility other than the four cities include the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD), the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Program (SERCAP), and State Sen. Keith Perry and Rep. Chuck Clemons.
"We have not solicited support from Alachua County," New said. "But it seems like the type of project that Alachua County's EPD would support."
Alachua County Commissioner Anna Prizzia said the conversation was important and the regional system seems to benefit the overall water quality and protection water resources in Alachua County, especially in the effort to switch septic systems and wells to sewer systems.
Gainesville Commissioner David Arreola agreed and said it was important for unity in converting wells to septic systems, which is required for new developments in Alachua County.
New presented regional opportunities and benefits for the project, such as sharing equipment and operators, joint purchase of chemicals and equipment, contractual assistance and a shared governance over a regional wastewater treatment facility.
In his 35 years of utilities management experience, New said he learned that the success of a regional facility will be determined by strong leadership.
"Can we find enough key leaders to move this project forward?" he asked. "It all hinges with good leadership."