Port St. Joe, county begin negotiations on sewer expansion in Beacon Hill

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After a successful meeting last month, the county and the city of Port St. Joe has agreed to move forward with the city’s plan to purchase the sewer system currently serving houses between the Veterans Memorial Park and the county line with $500,000 of county assistance.

In their April 19 meeting, Port St. Joe commissioners unanimously voted to allow the city’s attorney, Clinton McCahill, to begin formal negotiations with the county’s attorney, Jeremy Novak, and the current owner of the sewer line.

“The mayor, (the city administrator) and I met with the county to go over certain things the county is willing to give,” McCahill said at the meeting. “We reiterated (at that meeting) the need to receive a formal offer from the owner, and we have since basically got that for a $900,000 purchase price.”

“I simply today ask the board to allow me to negotiate an interlocal agreement with the county, which, of course, I would bring back to the board for approval once it’s done.”

At their April 26 meeting, the county commissioners also unanimously voted to move forward with negotiations, with commissioner Patrick Farrell abstaining due to conflict of interest.

The plan has been more than a decade in the making, with discussions resurfacing at the county’s regular session meeting in November, 2021.

There, County Administrator Michael Hammond expressed that houses bin the area would no longer be allowed to tap into Mexico Beach’s sewer line after Mexico Beach reached out to Gulf County to share that the line was over capacity.

He went on to explain that Port St. Joe and the county had entered an interlocal agreement about a decade ago stating that the city would eventually run sewer lines to the area when funding became available.

“It was always understood by Mexico Beach that when the City (of Port St. Joe) had money available, the sewer would flow south. It would not go north,” Hammond said. 

Hammond initially thought that the city had already secured the funding for the project. But, after discussing the matter with city officials and realizing this was not the case, the county agreed to pay a portion of the cost from their Restore dollars.

The majority of residences in the Beacon Hill and Gulf Aire neighborhoods are currently using septic systems, with only those directly along Mexico Beach’s existing line having the ability to tap into the sewer.

According to the city, the expansion will bring in an additional 1,000 or more customers to the city’s sewer system. City Commissioner David Ashbrook said this would help the city bring in additional funding which could lower costs for existing customers.

County officials expressed that the city would need to obtain an official offer before negotiations could progress, which McCahill said was secured in the weeks after the city’s initial meeting with the county.

To purchase the sewer line and customers, the city will have to fork over $900,000, $500,000 of which will be covered by the county, with an additional $250,000 to go towards the purchase of a lift station, if necessary, and 10 percent of indirect costs.

According to Port St. Joe City Manager Jim Anderson, the rest of the funding will be pulled from existing city reserves set aside for that purpose or for infrastructure development.

The attorneys are expected to produce an agreement between the county and the city outlining each party’s responsibilities to be reviewed by each board in the coming weeks.

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