Walton County and the greater Driftwood Estates Homeowners Association have been engaged in an ongoing dispute regarding interpretation of Sandestin's Development of Regional Impact development standards and periodic flooding that occurs in the outer portions of Driftwood Estates.
Driftwood is part of the Sandestin DRI and is located on the northern tip, approximately 2.5 miles north of U.S. Highway 98. It is bordered on the west, north and east by Choctawhatchee Bay.
The perimeter of Driftwood Estates was platted in 1979 as Phase I, with the interior platted between 2003 and 2006 as Phase II.
In 2008 the parties entered into an agreement that stipulated disputes would be heard by an impartial Special Magistrate who would provide recommendations. An evidentiary hearing was held Aug. 24-25, 2009, to determine whether Driftwood's stormwater system is designed according to standards outlined in the DRI, as well as the measures taken to correct the deficiencies and stop the periodic flooding.
The Special Magistrate recommended a review by an independent qualified and experienced stormwater engineer of the Driftwood exterior and interior stormwater system to determine the appropriate model to be used for the Driftwood stormwater system; the permitted design of the stormwater system, and review what has been built to determine any significant changes not consistent with the design.
In April 2015 Walton County hired Dr. Harvey H. Harper III, Ph.D., P.E. president of Environmental Research & Design Engineering, Science, Chemistry, and Research based in Orlando, to address the stormwater-related complaints and make recommendations.
On Nov. 11, 2015 Harper submitted a technical memorandum to the Walton Board of County Commissioners about Sandestin's DRI and Driftwood Estates' stormwater standard.
Dr. Harper noted in his findings that the Choctawhatchee Bay is a highly productive estuarine system classified in the Florida Administrative Code as a Class II surface water suitable for shellfish propagation or harvesting.
In his conclusions Dr. Harper said there appears to be overwhelming evidence that the stormwater standard for the Sandestin DRI is intended to be a retention standard. He said there is little evidence to support detention, meaning Sandestin is not in compliance with its DRI standard.
The BCC heard an update on the project from the County's Engineering Services Manager Greg Graham at its last meeting.
Graham said the County is going into a Phase II drainage project in Driftwood that will include putting in two drainage ditches.
"This was the original roadway improvement plan," said Graham. "This plan should have been followed."
Graham expects four more phases to complete the entire circle of Driftwood.
The plan that is being implemented also calls for 1,800-feet of sidewalk because there are now several hundred homes there and everyone walks in the street.
District 2 Commissioner Cecilia Jones asked Graham if he is seeing marked improvement in drainage as he puts in ditches on both sides of the road.
Graham said there have never been signs of flooding there.
District 3 Commissioner Melanie Nipper said numerous people have contacted her about water quality in the Bay.
South Walton resident Suzanne Harris pressed Graham for an answer of whether the water being taken out of Driftwood to keep them from flooding is going into the Bay.
Graham said the water is conveyed to several outfall locations, and admitted that occasionally it is piped to the outfall into the Bay.
However, a point of concern is that County Attorney Sidney Noyes said the Board directed her office to end the contract with Harper.
"He completed the first phase and the contract ended before he completed his work," said Noyes. "We have been working with Dr. Harper to see if he wanted to amend and go on."
"I assume he is not going to finish then," said Nipper. "People are concerned that once Sandestin is built out there will be drainage problems. I would like to see the stormwater runoff calculated by an outside stormwater engineer. I would like to know if we are going to have drainage issues and be proactive and not reactive."
District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman said that after a year with no action taken, he feels it may be time for the County to move forward with a new contractor.
However, Driftwood resident Alan Osborne, who sued the County over drainage, prefers to stay with Harper.
"We have been involved in this for a long time and it was part of my mediation settlement. You picked him and he is not done. He has already given a deposition. Serve him a demand letter," said Osborne.
However, Noyes asked Commissioner to not make a motion at the meeting and she would try to get with Harper and bring something back at the next meeting.
Commissioners accepted her proposal.