SANTA ROSA BEACH — The Walton County Commission voted Tuesday to continue efforts to resolve drainage issues in its oft-flooded Driftwood Estates neighborhood.

Commissioners also voted to have staff study the possibility of putting an estimated $10 million in BP funds toward improving the health of Choctawhatchee Bay.

“The Choctawhatchee Bay basin is our Everglades,” Jim Bagby, the vice chairman of the Walton County Taxpayers Association, said in urging the commission to take bold action to save the bay.

Commissioner Trey Nick, a commercial fisherman who has made a living off the bay, said he and his fellow fishermen have “seen the condition of Choctawhatchee Bay diminish over the last 20 years.” He suggested $10 million in Pot 3 Restore Act funds be dedicated to improving the health of the estuary.

The county had lost out on a bid to secure funding from Triumph Gulf Coast to help pay for infrastructure and development along its U.S. Highway 331 corridor, and County Administrator Larry Jones said it is possible, although no guarantee, the county could get permission to spend BP money it sought to use as matching funds on bay improvements.

“These requests for dollars from Restore Act funds are very well scrutinized,” Jones warned the commission. “It’s not a short process by any means. It won’t be next week.”

To use the approximately $10 million it has set aside in the so-called Pot 3 funds, Jones said, the county will need project approval from a 23-county consortium of Gulf Coast counties and a review from the U.S. Treasury.

Solving the problems in Driftwood Estates is a key component to any effort to clean up the bay, where stormwater runoff from inferior drainage infrastructure has caused problems for the neighborhood and the bay for years.

Harry Harper on Tuesday reported to the County Commission on his findings from studying the drainage issues in Driftwood Estates. He projected fixing them could easily run into millions of dollars.

Harper said swales originally designed to collect water and move it off neighborhood roads were incorrectly constructed and culverts built to carry precipitation under driveways have been clogged for years.

Pipes designed to collect and carry water to appropriate outfalls have similarly failed to meet expectations, he added.

Harper estimated it would take $2 million to properly re-engineer the swales and provide proper maintenance to existing culverts. He said designing a “storm sewer system” capable of moving water safely to an outfall would cost many millions more.

Commissioner Melanie Nipper was adamant that the county rehire Harper — whose contract ended when he completed his Driftwood report — to prioritize his recommendations so the county could begin cleaning up the subdivision as soon as possible.

After much debate it was decided that county workers continue a five-phase effort to improve drainage at Driftwood and that county engineers and public works officials build the priority list for needed infrastructure improvements. In a nod to Nipper’s insistence, Harper will be called in to review the priority list upon its completion.

Commissioner Bill Chapman, who voted against accepting Harper’s report but for compiling the Driftwood priority list, warned his fellow board members that a $10 million infusion of funding to improve the health of Choctawhatchee Bay in Walton County would have to be spread far beyond Driftwood Estates.

Chapman is the county’s representative to a recently formed Choctawhatchee Bay Estuary Commission. That commission, he said, is studying threats to the bay “holistically.”

“We’ll want to know how to properly apply the funds,” Chapman said.