Meeting Of The Minds: Senator, Others Brainstorm How To Save Century’s Failing Sewage Plant

September 26, 2019

[A NorthEscambia.com exclusive] Numerous state and local officials  descended upon the sewage treatment plant in Century Wednesday. They were there to see firsthand just how bad the facility’s problems are, and talk about violations and enforcement actions. But moreso, they were there to see just how the group could come together to fix a facility that is suffering from neglect in its old age.

“Is there some place we could find a little bit of shade?” Florida Sen. Doug Broxson asked as the group arrived in a parking lot in front of a concrete block building. Most never noticed a plaque on the wall that told the story of the beginnings of the facility.

“Town of Century Wastewater System” it began, with list of town officials. Mayor Edward Ross. Town Clerk Ray Lawson, Council members that included Benny Barnes, Jerry Fischer and Marie McMurray. And town planner Debbie Nickles, who still works for the town. But at the bottom was the most important prelude to Wednesday’s meeting.

The dedication date: June 15, 1990.

That’s the real problem that has become a huge thorn in Century’s side. The plant has operated with very little preventative or routine maintenance since it opened coming up on 30 years ago. Much like never, ever changing the oil in car.

The plant operated 10,694 days leading up to Wednesday with many mechanical parts pumping, churning, filtering, spraying and moving wastewater through the cleaning process and into the Escambia River. But town officials over many previous administrations have failed to ever “change the oil” and invest dollars back into maintenance. Now major parts of the facility have failed.

The Town of Century Wastewater Treatment Facility — the Century WWTF as it is officially known — has operated without a state permit since last year. The list of environmental violations are long, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has sent warning letters totalling dozens of pages. The DEP is now talking in serious terms like consent orders and a path that could even lead to the court system or the federal EPA if something is not done. Simply put, it’s bad.

For a photo gallery, click here.

Wednesday’s group crowded into a little shade created by an equipment shed, hiding from the midday sun. There was no missing that there was an unpleasant odor in the air, but it was not as bad as might be imagined from a sewage plant that handles not only the waste from town residents but also  the 1,350 or so guests at the Century Correctional Institution.

Bright red signs propped against a building nearby warned that it is a “Class B Biosolids Site. Public Access Prohibited” as Sen Broxson started a meeting that included Escambia County Commissioner Steven Barry, ECUA Member Larry Walker, several DEP staffers including Director Shawn Hamilton, Florida Rural Water, the Northwest Florida Water Management District, engineers…a lot of important titles, smart minds and logoed shirts.

The group faced Century Mayor Henry Hawkins, new Interim City Manager Buz Eddy and new Interim Natural Gas Supervisor Vernon Prather. Prather isn’t just a gas guy; he holds a wastewater operator permit.

NorthEscambia.com was the only media present for the brainstorming session.

Century WWTF operator Heath Burkett (pictured left) stood in the back. He took over the facility a few months ago, inheriting all the serious deficiencies as they already existed from years, even decades, prior.

“That’s an air pressure leak you hear,” Burkett said as detailed problems at the plant.

“There’s a lot going on here. This is your chance to get the county, the state and other authorities involved in solving your issues,” Broxson told the mayor and his staff, “all these things that we need to help our neighbors get on their feet.”

They detailed major issues and started a running cost list for equipment repair or replacement. The estimated bottom line? It was staggering on the scale of Town of Century economics: $4 million dollars.

“I believe the county can do about $400,000,” Barry, the District 5 commissioner, said.

“And I think the state can also do about $400,000,” Broxson said.

Those dollars will, if all goes as hoped, provided matching funds required for grants and perhaps state loans.

“Our goal is to make this a system just like the best system in the state,” Broxson said during the 90 minute meeting. “And once we do that, we have options. But the best option might not be for the city of Century to operate this.”

In fact, Broxson said, he foresees ECUA taking over the wastewater plant once it is repaired.

“If that’s the end idea, the end goal for ECUA to take it over, then all these repairs and replacements better be done now according to ECUA standards,” ECUA’s Walker (pictured left) said.

Broxson also touched on Century’s other serious financial problems, especially those of the gas department.

“You can’t continue to go down the trail you’re on,” Broxson said. “When your assets are outweighed by your liabilities, that presents a problem. I know you are not quite there yet on paper, but if we can’t help you stand this process up — your gas, your water and sewer, then…there are some pretty bleak options for you….I’ve talked to Rep. (Mike) Hill about our delegation decision that if the city were to continue to go down this road of financial distress, there are bad options for you. And I don’t want those options.”

For a photo gallery, click here.

NorthEscambia.com will continue to look into the Century Wastewater Treatment Facility and other issues in upcoming stories.

NorthEscambia.com exclusive photos, click to enlarge.

Comments

38 Responses to “Meeting Of The Minds: Senator, Others Brainstorm How To Save Century’s Failing Sewage Plant”

  1. Opinion on September 29th, 2019 9:37 pm

    Again the council will have to ask for the referendum and I read between the lines, If they keep going down this path of losing money bad things will happen. Was that explained to them in simple to understand language? Don’t assume they knew what that meant.

    “You can’t continue to go down the trail you’re on,” Broxson said. “When your assets are outweighed by your liabilities, that presents a problem. I know you are not quite there yet on paper, but if we can’t help you stand this process up — your gas, your water and sewer, then…there are some pretty bleak options for you….I’ve talked to Rep. (Mike) Hill about our delegation decision that if the city were to continue to go down this road of financial distress, there are bad options for you. And I don’t want those options.”

  2. Chelleepea on September 29th, 2019 12:09 pm

    @long long ago……good article. The point…..the people rose up to make this happen. I wonder how many want the town to dissolve and how many want to give the town more time since the council has just begun to realize how bad things are. Too bad it has taken this long………..it maybe too late.

  3. Long long ago on September 28th, 2019 7:11 pm

    I’m not certain that this is permitted under NE.com Rule #7 regarding web links. However, there appears to be a single case in Florida where a municipality has, by referendum, dissolved. The location was a community in Bay County named Cedar Grove. The Florida Bar Association has a detailed story about Cedar Grove’s decision to dissolve. It can be found at https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-journal/the-dissolution-of-the-town-of-cedar-grove/

    Of interest is how Cedar Grove’s municipal employees were terminated or absorbed into Bay County. Also, a plan had to be developed regarding debts, zoning, policing, and utilities. By statute, Bay County had to take over.

    It’s an interesting document to read. And it may be a pathway to ultimately solve many of Century’s governmental issues.

  4. IMHO on September 28th, 2019 9:48 am

    Opinion winner winner chicken dinner!
    “To keep the farce for the CTA”
    Exactly…..

  5. Opinion on September 27th, 2019 11:56 pm

    The council will have to ask for the referendum. We don’t need to be penalized to take the hit for the state prison waste. End it. Broxson and Hill will have to call for the disincorporation. The voters don’t get it. They are too emotionally attached or ignorant. Any body have a spine or a brain? They fear the unknown.To keep the farce for the CTA is wrong.

  6. Skeptic on September 27th, 2019 7:41 pm

    Even though I consider Mayor Hawkins to be in over his head and pretty much inept at his job, these problems started years and years before he ever dreamed of being in the prestigious office of mayor, so it’s a little hard to blame him for this.

  7. Long Long Ago on September 27th, 2019 6:27 pm

    Before the 1990 dedication of the new Century wastewater plant, there was a failing wastewater treatment plant in Century. Sound familiar?

    If I recall correctly, Mayor Ross wrote to then Governor Bob Martinez for help. As the story goes, the Governor received the letter and asked, “Where is Century?” He had never heard of the town.

    Governor Martinez actually came to Century to see for himself. His visit was big news.

    In the next legislative session, funds were appropriated to build a new wastewater plant. There was all kinds of hope that having a new and modern wastewater plant would help to facilitate new economic development, and that Century was turning a corner.

    The lessons here are: There have been local, state, and federal investments in Century. Even if new public investments are made, the town does not have the financial capabilities nor, perhaps, the expertise, to maintain or replace without further federal, state, or county aid.

    A decision needs to be made about the future of the very existence if the government of Century. Senator Broxson doesn’t need to make this decision. The people, by referendum, need to make the decision about the town’s future.

  8. IMHO on September 27th, 2019 6:04 pm

    Where did the grant money go? Good question. Probably the same place the rest of the missing millions have gone!! Unacceptable and inexcusable

  9. David on September 27th, 2019 4:15 pm

    Brain storm…put that town on a EKG machine…..FLATLINE

  10. Chelleepea on September 27th, 2019 12:56 pm

    @CL…..good point. I was wondering that same thing and that article is not the only time grants were mentioned….

  11. CL on September 27th, 2019 10:05 am

    Was Century ever awarded this grant? If so, where did those funds go?

    http://www.northescambia.com/2017/12/century-seeks-grant-for-water-wastewater-improvements-2

  12. Duke of Wawbeek on September 27th, 2019 9:06 am

    There are cabals of great and cunning minds in this universe.

    then there is the antithesis…

  13. M in Bratt on September 26th, 2019 9:55 pm

    Some of you people sound just like the people in the clown show at city hall, and want to blame everybody in this world for the problems in Century except those that have been responsible for creating them. I would strongly object to either the State or County shelling out a bunch of money so the King and his court can throw it away. Dr. Walker is right in refusing to have anything to do with this mess until it is fixed. Why would the ECUA accept the liability associated with this plant and put it on the rest of the county? The fines for dumping sewage in the river could be massive. Senator Broxon should take the lead in this, and file a bill to revoke Century’s Charter, and put and end to this mess forever after.

  14. Michelle D. on September 26th, 2019 5:38 pm

    If ECUA takes over, the people of Century, will be paying double amounts on their bills. I pray they come up with a proposal that will help. Yes, we need to sell the gas department.

  15. David on September 26th, 2019 3:06 pm

    We dont want ECUA to come in and take over you want be able to afford there fees. Century NEEDS to sale the gas department and take the money and pay back the water and sewer department and spend the money on up grades.

  16. Chelleepea on September 26th, 2019 1:42 pm

    So it begins…..we’ll give you money but you ain’t managing it anymore …..then comes gas and then water and then Century is no longer a town.

    All these problems could have been avoided if there were proper maintenance. Check this every month, check that every year…..Let’s fix this little problem now before it gets to be a bigger problem later…let’s set aside a certain percentage of income for maintenance….let’s make a plan to fix this problem in 6 months in one year…..etc, etc. SMH

  17. gj on September 26th, 2019 12:54 pm

    Looking at the 2018 audit shows the reason major maintenance was not done. The Water and Sewer fund is owed nearly $2 million that was used to support the General and Gas Fund.

  18. David Huie Green on September 26th, 2019 12:36 pm

    Interesting to consider the fact that
    Wastewater Treatment Facility should be WTF

    but I can see why they didn’t go with that.

    David downstream
    wondering what the sandbars
    are REALLY made of nowadays

  19. NativeTongue on September 26th, 2019 11:00 am

    Mr. Walker has been on this board long enough, and is educated enough, to know this was an enormous problem back in March when the frequent testing started happening at the water dumping site on the Escambia River.
    Century might have been responsible for the treatment plant but Walker’s entire career was built on knowing these things for glaring red flags for his own district.
    Why wasn’t he running to State agencies, BOCC, or elected officials for help then?

    @Mr. Reality – I hate seeing my ECUA rate increase as well but I hate the thought of having Century’s solid waste rolling down the river a mile from my house even more. I’d much rather my increase go toward stopping this environmental disaster and preventing it for the future than toward the capital improvements the ECUA never seems to actually make.

  20. chris on September 26th, 2019 10:48 am

    With the amount of BS that is dispersed at every council meeting, it’s no wonder that the sewage plant is failing.

  21. mat on September 26th, 2019 10:40 am

    I like how this is worded.
    1350 or so guests at the Century Correctional Facility.
    Are they really guests there?

  22. Jack williams on September 26th, 2019 10:13 am

    Meeting of the minds???

    There was no mind there. Watch your pockets folks
    We will pay this one ourselves

  23. just sayin on September 26th, 2019 10:06 am

    Hopefully Heath wont be out of a job if ECUA takes it over. Sounds like he inherited a huge mess when he took on this job. Maybe he is the reason this mess has been brought to lite rather than just putting a band aid on it.

  24. EMD on September 26th, 2019 9:12 am

    More needs saving there than the sewage plant. Who is going to save the town?

  25. tg on September 26th, 2019 8:34 am

    The Mayor always has the look of someone will take care of us. Money from Heaven.

  26. David on September 26th, 2019 8:23 am

    “Meeting of the minds” …shortest meeting in history

  27. Willis on September 26th, 2019 8:07 am
  28. sam on September 26th, 2019 7:36 am

    finally, at least someone is looking at the problem and not turning a blind eye to it. get the town out of running the everyday maintenance and upkeep of the system. they are in no way capable managing it.

  29. Anne on September 26th, 2019 6:59 am

    Perhaps they can also help fix the Century Gas problems and install working and accurate meters for ALL Consumers to make sure there is a reliable income from ALL Users.
    Wastewater system being so bad, it’s hard to imagine just ignoring something like that.
    Sigh, what a mess one end to the other.
    Lord, Please help guide Century.

  30. john on September 26th, 2019 6:52 am

    Century is like that one family member that can’t manage their life and is always needy, always borrowing money, cant get to work because their car always broke down, need money cant pay their electric bill, or cant get a job because they dont know how to prepare a resume. The list goes on and on. Before they are bailed out, some folks need to be fired!

  31. Rasheed Jackson on September 26th, 2019 6:49 am

    The sewage system isn’t failing, it has failed, and the people responsible for its upkeep are to blame, and they all need to be fired. The state needs to step in and take over the system before it becomes a health risk. The only option that is even remotely viable is for ECUA to take over the system.

  32. Oversight on September 26th, 2019 6:46 am

    And now since the scab has been torn off, stop standing around wringing your hands and get to work correcting the problem with purpose and urgency.

  33. Dave on September 26th, 2019 6:38 am

    It is obvious the town government has been squandering our tax dollars for decades. They have taken funds from every part of this town for use on whatever benifited them and not the citizens. They have been abusing the towns trust and well being for so long they have exhausted almost everything and now we find out they have been dumping untreated sewage in the river for years. How many of you have been eating fish from the river or swimming in it?
    Just look at Mr. Walkers facial expression, lets see your best caption for his thoughts. I will go with ” Why do I have to take this mess?”
    I for one hope we see ECUA take over everything possible. It would be nice to have working systems in the town. The part that makes me sick is no one is being held accountable for all of this. The town government is like a spoiled kid. If they break something mommy says don’t worry about it I will buy you another one. What they need is a switch to the rear and kicked out so they can not do anymore damage.

  34. Brianh on September 26th, 2019 6:24 am

    Meeting of the minds? Weak minds would be more truthful.

  35. bama on September 26th, 2019 5:45 am

    The county nor state should have anything to do with Century as long as Henry Hawkins is in the mayors office. If they want get rid of problems, they should start with him.

  36. Citizen on September 26th, 2019 3:47 am

    We sure are glad these people finally starting to pay attention 100 emails later. Check the drinking water next. BOCC you know you ignored a RESTORE request. But yes so much is neglected. We were not aware of violations piling up.

  37. MR REALITY on September 26th, 2019 3:27 am

    wait ECUA is involved….EXPECT ANOTHER RATE INCREASE~~~~~~~~~

  38. MR REALITY on September 26th, 2019 3:26 am

    We need to hold the peopel that were in office PERSONALLY responsible. WHY bail them out so they can just DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN! People need to go to jail!!!





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