Freeport's mayor and City Council met with Walton County's Board of County Commissioners Tuesday afternoon in an effort to try to hash out the sewage issues in the Brandon Oaks development located just off Bay Grove Road in Freeport.
The issue has gone back and forth for a number of months at commission meetings as the question of whose responsibility the sewage problems are kept coming up. There have been questions of what the city of Freeport is able and willing to do, as well as the county. The separate meetings have not found solutions.
There are 14 homes in the development in need of immediate relief due to their septic tanks spilling sewage.
The group debated whether it is fair to bail out the 14 homes and pay to get them on city sewer as there are 54 homes in the subdivision and others may also need help in the future.
By the end of the workshop, however, the group seemed in agreement that due to the spillage, it is critical that the county step up and take care of the 14 now.
However, no formal agreement could be made or vote taken as the meeting was merely a workshop to find a meeting of the minds.
District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson asked County Attorney Sidney Noyes to place the item on the agenda for Monday's BCC meeting when plans will be formalized as to whether the county will pay all or if Freeport will be held responsible for half or any of the cost.
"There are grants out there and RESTORE money," noted District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander.
The cost for hookup to city sewer is $8,300 per hookup.
District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman said the county is trying to work with individual owners in the subdivision to get right of easement to go in there and address drainage issues.
"We have got to move forward with this," he said. "We need to make sure not only the 14 but the remaining ones have to settle this issue."
Chapman asked Mayor Russ Barley if the city would be willing to finance for the owners. Barley said the city would finance existing homes but not new homes.
City Attorney Clay Atkinson said MyFlorida law has certain policies for hardship cases to finance all charges.
"It's up to local powers to adopt a policy with penalties," he said. "If the county is willing to give us authority we can enforce."
Anderson suggested the city pay half and the county pay half, but rights to the easement must be obtained.
"The people must understand the problem can't go away until we get that easement," Anderson said. "I wouldn't live out there the way it is. It is as bad as it gets. We are tasked with taking care of problems like this. These 14 are absolutely critical. This is not a long-term answer but an immediate answer."
However, there were others in attendance at the meeting who did not feel the 14 should be getting free rides and the entire neighborhood should be fixed, a notion that Chapman agreed with.
"It wouldn't be fair to the remaining if we pay the full cost for 14," he said.
But Comander noted that the county would not be doing the 14 homes a favor, but instead would be doing the county a favor by stopping the sewage from getting into the bay.
Atkinson said that all seemed to agree that a mandatory hookup to city sewer needs to be imposed.
"But from a practical level we need an ordinance," he said. "We can't do anything until we figure out terms and send letters. We can't make anyone hook up until we get these things in place."