Major wastewater wetland site in Crestview could double as nature hub

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

CRESTVIEW — A city-owned series of manmade, technologically advanced wastewater treatment wetlands that will double as a wildlife-friendly spot for public enjoyment might be fully constructed several years from now.

Resembling the Ocala Wetland Recharge Park, Crestview’s planned, multi-million-dollar wetlands are slated to be built on a newly acquired 48.6-acre parcel just northeast of the city sewage plant at 5101 Arena Road.

In late February, the city closed on the $488,000 purchase of the heavily wooded parcel, which already contains one natural wetland as well as a stretch of Juniper Creek.

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Dallas-based Jacobs Engineering Group, which worked with the city of Ocala on its wetland recharge park, has partnered with Crestview to provide something similar.

The Ocala Wetland Recharge Park in Ocala is pictured in this photo from 2020. Jacobs Engineering Group, which worked the city of Ocala, is currently working with Crestview to build a similar series of wetland recharge ponds for the city's wastewater treatment plant.

Jacobs Engineering and Crestview officials anticipate finalizing a study in August that will determine the number and size of the treatment ponds at the park, as well as the amount of wastewater that will be filtered by the new wetlands.

Crestview's wastewater treatment facility, seen in this aerial photograph, is being upgraded to meet the growing needs of the city. Part of that upgrade will include a series of man-made wetland ponds where treated and cleaned water can be returned to the ground.

As the final step in wastewater treatment, plants in the low-maintenance wetlands will help remove nitrogen and other harmful nutrients before the polished water helps “recharge” the aquifer.

“Ocala is getting 3 million gallons per day treated at their wetlands on 35 acres,” Crestview Public Services Director Wayne Steele said last week. “We’re hoping for something similar, or more, here.”

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The study to be completed this summer also is expected to provide officials with a better idea of the new park’s construction cost. A very preliminary estimate is about $3 million. Steele said the city plans to use grant money and borrowed funds to cover the cost.

Crestview’s sewage plant and irrigated spray fields cover about 300 acres off Arena Road in the midst of an estimated 7,000-acre, mostly undeveloped area bounded by U.S. Highway 90 to the north, Antioch Road to the west, State Road 85 to the east and Interstate 10 to the south.

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The planned wetlands are part of other major upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment system. After the wetlands are developed, officials plan to phase out the less-effective and less-economical spray fields and use some of the land for city-managed sports fields.

Using a much smaller footprint than the spray fields, the wetlands represent “newer technology that hasn’t been done here in Northwest Florida yet,” Steele said. “We’re excited about it because you get so much more for so much less property.”

As a bonus, the manmade wetlands will be environmentally friendly, he added.

Like Ocala’s recharge park, Crestview’s wetlands will offer people the opportunity to stroll on wooden boardwalks while looking at birds, fish, turtles and other wildlife.

Alligators also might call the future wetlands home.

“Once you get soft-shell turtles, you’ll find gators,” Ernie Nolan, who manages Crestview’s sewage plant, said with a laugh. “That’s just the next step.”

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Steele said the city aims to have the wetlands built within the next five years. The main route for the public to access them will be the future “east-west connector” road that will run just south of the sewage plant.

The connector will lie about 1.3 miles north of I-10 and extend about 3 miles between the Arena Road section of the future southwest Crestview bypass and the existing Physicians Drive. Physicians Drive currently is a dead-end road and connects to SR 85 via West Redstone Avenue.

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The spray fields at Crestview wastewater treatment plant extend south toward Interstate 10. The facility is being upgraded to accommodate the growing needs of the city. Part of that upgrade will be the creation of a series of natural wetland recharge ponds that will be more efficient and possibly replace some of the spray fields.

On its southern end, the southwest bypass will connect to a new I-10 interchange just east of the Addison Place Apartments and north of Antioch Road, and then continue to U.S. 90 at its intersection with Enzor Road, for a total distance of about 3 miles.

Construction of the east-west connector and southwest bypass might be completed by 2024 or 2025.