Escambia County’s RESTORE Act Advisory Committee met Monday December 1st at the Escambia County Commission Chambers and heard presentations from the Santa Rosa Island Authority (SRIA), Emerald Coast Utilities Authority (ECUA), the Town of Century, the City of Pensacola, and Escambia County on their respective funding needs and gaps in the draft needs assessment for RESTORE Act funding. The needs assessment was described as a “comprehensive list of issues/challenges facing Escambia County which should be considered for holistic planning purposes”. It has been divided into four broad categories: environment, economy, infrastructure and social issues.
Representatives of these governmental agencies gave their comments on what they felt was missing in the countywide needs assessment developed by the Dewberry Consulting group hired by Escambia County government. The SRIA spokesperson presented sand dunes restoration, maintenance of the dunes crossovers, stabilization of roadway shoulders, implementation of the Pensacola Beach Master Plan for infrastructure improvements and environmental remediation as needing to be added to the assessment. Tim Haag of the ECUA called for the improvement of ambient water quality, a sewer expansion program to phase out septic tank use, and improved sanitation collection among issues to be combined into the assessment to address the community’s needs.
The Town of Century’s Mayor, Freddie McCall, focused on water quality, the North Century Drainage Project, flood control performance assessment, storm water improvements to stop the flooding of the Highway 29 corridor, and replacement of wastewater lift stations to be inserted into the needs document prepared by Dewberry. Both the City of Pensacola and Escambia County focused their assessments of need on storm water improvements, and projects targeting the environmental and infrastructure categories to be adjoined to the draft needs assessment.
Dewberry submitted the draft needs assessment document to Keith Wilkins, Director of the Escambia County Office of Environment and Community in October. The document has been circulated to the advisory committee and the public by email from Wilkins’ office. Bentina Terry, RESTORE Act Advisory Committee Chairman, emphasized the deadline to finalize the draft needs assessment in January and the application criteria to be finalized in February 2015.She then stated that her conversation with Michael Hanson of Dewberry prior to the December advisory committee meeting led to their consensus that March could be the month to make a portal available for project submissions.
Al Coby, former City of Pensacola City Manager, voiced his concern on the accelerated pace of the steps moving toward the approval of the project criteria. As in the November meeting, Coby felt that the pace of moving toward a determination of funding criteria by February may be to accelerated for such an important decision. Bentina Terry, Keith Wilkins and Mike Hanson of Dewberry all agreed that whatever time is needed for the advisory committee to be comfortable that more time will have to be allowed. Additionally, Wilkins reminded the advisory committee that the Board of County Commissioners may need several board meetings to finalize their approval of the funding criteria.