Water—The Coming Fight and the Mouse

on Thursday, 05 May 2022.

Dear Readers:

Last month, the Florida Legislature did something remarkable. It punished ostensibly family-friendly Disney for its stridently Woke policies This is not a straightforward issue either. My wife and I just got back from a trip to Mouse Land. We saw some of the issues that could cause rancor with many conservative Franklin County residents. The word “Diversity” slipped out in way too many attractions. Yes, we heard the term “birthing parents” used at one attraction at the park, the flying of Gay Flags, and climate change predictions that would scare any 4-year-old to his/her core. This is not the main story today though. It’s the aftermath of the Governor and then the Legislature’s actions that have swept up Eastpoint Water and Sewer into controversy. Five other taxing districts are also set to expire along with Disney’s Reedy Creek District. Let’s talk about Eastpoint Water and Sewer District for a moment (EPWS).

Right off the bat, I want to state that I have not studied EPWS for several years. I have read their current year budget which seems to comport with past budgets and financial statements I’ve read in the past. With the information I have at the moment; EPWS is financially shaky. Its stated financial reserve is $1,000. Meaning that if everything goes perfectly, they can pay their bills and break even. If not....? Let’s compare that to the much smaller Alligator Point Water Resource District with a reserve of over $1.3 million, or Carrabelle Water and Sewer with more than $2 million. Think there might be problems?

Now, here’s the real issue. The county has had a hankering for at least the last 10 years to create a regional water and sewer authority to replace all the existing agencies and even privately held Water Management Services on SGI that provides water to the Island. The attempt to appoint a Water Czar previously was not successful mostly due to a lack of consensus by the BOCC and many detractors. However, among the several possibilities for a threatened EPWS is a plan, now just in the consideration stage of resurrecting that old plan and ultimately replacing the existing providers.

What are the pros and cons? To the good, centralized policies, billing, pricing, and perhaps universal access could be good things. To the bad, a loss of local control and accountability that exists at present, higher cost of service would be likely, and the big one...this could lead to universal sewer. Environmentalists love universal sewer as protection for our beaches. Developers love sewers to justify housing densification to achieve greater profits. Now let me share another scary topic.

At the final meeting of the County Commission in April, there was a discussion by the Commission to change the current land use policy of 1 house per acre on land which is not presently platted for higher densities. The discussion also included allowing a reduction in the size of houses from the current county minimum of 1,000 sq ft to 750 sq ft; ostensibly to allow for so-called ‘affordable’ homes. As a former builder, I can state with reasonable assurance that the cost difference for dropping 250 sq ft, all other things being equal, i.e., number of bedrooms and baths being the same, would be about $6,250 +- When wrapped up into a mortgage, that changes the cost to the borrower about $40 a month. Not a material change to my mind for a significant loss of privacy and resale value.

Well, what about the land, you might ask? High-Density lots generally cost more per sq ft of land area due to it what it takes to increase density. Additional costs like sewer tap fees, fences, additional engineering and approvals, and other development costs all add up. The net effect is that lower-cost sewer-served rural land like we have here does not materially reduce delivered home costs.

So, who wins and who loses with smaller houses and higher densities? The Developer does. There is a direct link between denser land development and the cost to develop a project. Over the long-term, sewer and public policy will inevitably create smaller lots with maxed-out home sizes if this change comes to pass. So, the problem of affordability is not fixed while we could lose that special place that Franklin County is.

The availability of sewer on Alligator Point and St George Island will result in long-term harm. Here on Alligator Point, there was a proposal for one new development to put in an oversized AWWT (Advanced Waste Water Treatment) sewer plant that could allow for the “hooking on” of area properties. Some of these property owners even jumped the gun, asking for variances to allow them to split their lots ahead of any official zoning change. This action disclosed a picture of the future, allowing for a head’s up of what was to come if sewer became available. That AWWT project thankfully never came to fruition.

Politicians love crises. It gives them the ability to do things that ordinarily they’d never be able to do. With the above two crises on the table, we predict that Franklin County may find it too irresistible not to reach for the golden ring. How the perception of largely good but unschooled (in city planning and urban development) Commissioners might think this is a good thing for Franklin County is understandable. While in reality, this is how places like Panama City, and Destin got off the ground. Sewer extension is the enemy, especially for barrier islands. For Franklin County as a whole, it will be the death of childhood memories and a major change to the current draw that brings so many people here who seek a glimpse of Old Florida that still lives on as the “Forgotten Coast” like nowhere else in Florida.

It's your turn! I’d love to hear your opinion.

If you have any questions or concerns, or we can help you in any way in pursuit of our established goals, please reach out to us! And please help support the CCFC as it continues the battle for a better, more representative, and transparent government. Donations, which are not tax-deductible, may be sent to the address below.

Thank you.

Allan J. Feifer

Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.
P.O Box 990
Eastpoint, Florida 32328
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(850) 653-5571

“The Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc. serves as a citizens’ advocate to ensure that our Franklin County governments are more open, affordable, efficient, and responsive to our citizens. The organization seeks to hold public officials accountable for their actions in the administration of their duties and in their fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers.”

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