MILTON, Fla. (WKRG) — Manatees were spotted in Blackwater River in Milton over the weekend. With the endangered species in the area, residents are now expressing a heightened concern with a new wastewater treatment facility proposed to be built near the river.
“I’ve had to become a community activist to get this sewer plant stopped that they’re wanting to put on the river,” Milton resident Pam Mitchell said Tuesday morning.
Mitchell believes the new $75 million wastewater treatment facility proposed by the the City of Milton for a site near Blackwater River could cause harm to the environment.
“Our biggest concern has always been and remains that there is a catastrophic failure and that raw sewage is actually dumped into our river and basin,” Mitchell said.
The manatees spotted in Blackwater River were not far from Mitchell’s home, so protecting these friendly sea cows and other wildlife has become even more important to Mitchell.
“I think all of us were just excited as we could be, and we would love to see them more often,” Mitchell said. “Any large spills like that damages wildlife.”
The City of Milton says residents should not be concerned. City leaders say the new, hardened facility will be farther away from the river than their current treatment plant near downtown Milton. The new treatment facility aims to reduce the amount of treated wastewater discharged into Blackwater River and will make spills less likely, according to city manager Randy Jorgenson.
“We’re taking care of a problem. We’re not creating a problem. We’re making the environment better for the manatees,” Jorgenson said. “This facility is being built to a standard that will allow us to undergo the type of environment that we have here. We can literally withstand Category 4, Category 5 hurricanes without a failure. Right now, our plant — Cat. 4, we’re in trouble.”
Jorgenson said the new wastewater treatment facility could also help do away with septic tanks in the area, which also pose a risk to the environment.
“There’s 5,000 septic tanks up there. If you want to look at where the problem really comes from, it’s the septic tanks,” Jorgenson said. “We’ll have municipal service available, which will help eliminate those septic tanks from creating the environmental hazard that they do.”
The city says Blackwater River is a resource that can’t go unprotected.
“(Blackwater River) is the most valuable natural resource the city has,” Jorgenson said.
Mitchell believes her concerns aren’t being taken seriously.
“I feel like it’s falling on deaf ears. I feel like they feel like they’re under a gun, under a timeline, and they don’t really care about the future and where they’re putting the plant. They just want to put a quick bandaid on the plant that they have now.”
The city hopes to start construction on the new plant by the end of this year.