Mary Esther tackles major water/sewer upgrades

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

MARY ESTHER — About half of the city’s initial damage assessments to its public facilities and infrastructure following Hurricane Sally relates to a very old sewer line at Oleander Parkway and Azalea Drive, City Manager Jared Cobb said Friday.

Sally dumped more than 20 inches of rain on the area last month. A section of the roughly 300-foot clay pipe at Oleander and Azalea failed under pressure during the storm and will have to be repaired or replaced, said Cobb, who began serving as Mary Esther’s city manager the first week of August.

Hurricane Sally caused this storm surge in the Santa Rosa Sound in Mary Esther.

While waiting for potential storm-recovery aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mary Esther officials have tallied the city’s storm damages and estimate they could total about $371,500. The cost of replacing the failed sewer line might be at least $150,000, Cobb said.

More:Okaloosa still dealing with sewage issues from Hurricane Sally

“We’re working with our city engineer now to develop a recommendation on moving forward with that,” Cobb said. “We haven’t made any decisions yet on if it will be replaced or repaired. The challenge is it’s right up to U.S. Highway 98, so it’s more expensive then if it was in a residential neighborhood. If it’s replaced where it’s currently located, there would be expenses for traffic control and the work would probably have to be done overnight.”

Cobb confirmed that the destructive Sally hastened the need to repair or replace the pipe, which the city had planned to address in its long-term plan to overhaul Mary Esther’s overall aging and problematic water and sewer system.

In September 2019 the City Council approved borrowing $30 million to pay for a citywide water and sewer infrastructure rehabilitation project.

More:Mary Esther moving forward with $30 million loan for infrastructure improvements

The city isn’t taking out one loan for $30 million, Cobb said. The overall infrastructure work “is being taken on in phases, and we can respond and adjust as we move forward.”

When the council approved borrowing the money last year, the debt service on the loan was projected to total between $15 million and $20 million in the first 10 years of the overall project, which was estimated to be completed in 15 years or less.

To help pay the debt, the council last year approved a property tax increase for fiscal 2020, which ended this past Wednesday. The board also last year approved implementing three separate 10% across-the-board increases in water and wastewater fees for fiscal 2020, the current budget year and fiscal 2022, respectively.

More:Mary Esther might borrow $30 million

The city plans to use revenue from those sources and the local option half-cent sales tax to pay off the debt from the project.

Mary Esther currently provides water and sewer services for 292 commercial accounts and 1,706 residential accounts.

On Friday, Cobb said the Pensacola office of Jacobs Engineering is in the design process for phase I of the overall water and sewer rehab project.

More:VINTAGE PHOTOS: The Florida town of Mary Esther through the years

That phase will involve more than $4 million in various improvements. Almost $2 million of the total is earmarked for water and sewer work along Mary Esther Drive.

The design work is to be completed at end of this year, and city officials anticipate starting construction late next spring or early summer, Cobb said.