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Author: Ken Garner

Help wanted: Wastewater plant project manager

The council gave Jorgenson that authority at its committee of the whole meeting Thursday, Nov. 17.
Councilwoman Shannon Rice asked Jorgenson how he planned to find someone to take the job.

“There are a number of headhunting firms that may be of assistance in trying to identify an individual that could provide this service to the community,” Jorgenson said. “Further, there are personal contacts that we enjoy in state and federal regulatory agencies where they may be aware of individuals who possess these skills, in addition to reaching out to engineering firms with whom we have relationships and see if they could find someone that may in fact be interested and be qualified.”

The North Santa Rosa Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility is designed to be built in four phases, ultimately processing up to 8 million gallons of treated wastewater daily. The facility will serve most of Milton and rapidly growing East Milton, which includes three industrial parks.

The first phase, building the plant and the first set of rapid infiltration systems into which treated wastewater will be distributed, is expected to begin early next year and be completed in 2025. The city will fund the almost $44 million project with a mix of city reserves and state and federal grants and loans.

Phase 1 will allow the city to process an additional 2 million gallons of treated wastewater each day.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the city to stop discharging treated wastewater into the Blackwater River from the existing Municipal Drive facility by the end of 2025. Besides the state deadline, the existing plant also is nearing capacity; it’s permitted to treat up to 2.5 million gallons per day, but in October, the plant had a 6-month daily average of 1.95 MGD, with total commitments of 2.45 MGD.

FDEP already has issued a construction permit for the plant, which will be built on a 24-acre site between Santa Rosa County Jail and the Blackwater River and is considering a permit application for the RIBS on a nearby 100-acre property.

Because numerous permitting and funding agencies are involved with the project – which has an expected cost greater than the city’s entire budget – staff asked council earlier this year to hire someone to manage the project full time.

Jorgenson confirmed to Councilman Shannon Rice that any prospect would have to meet the terms of the RFP, and that the council would make the final decision on whether that person would be hired.

“I don’t know that any of that work will result in anyone being obtained that we feel is the right person for this job,” he said, “and before any decision is made as it relates to an individual, that would be brought forward for the council’s consideration.”

Community activist Pam Mitchell, chairperson for the political action committee Milton’s Concerned Citizens, said she would prefer Jorgenson identify at least three candidates for the council’s consideration.

“I’d like there to be 30,” Jorgenson replied, “but we’ll see what the results are, and I’ll share that with council. It may be that we don’t get anyone to potentially provide the service; I don’t know. It’s conjecture. (The council is) just giving me the authority to find the answer to the question.”

Milton’s Concerned Citizens is promoting a grassroots campaign to have the city move the new plant’s location. Its members claim that engineering studies done during permitting failed to identify springs and underground seepage that contributes to soil erosion and could, in the case of a plant failure, cause waste to wash downhill into Cooper’s Basin and the Blackwater River. MCC and other critics argue that other locations more suitable for the plant are available.

City staff counter that studies required for permitting and funding have not identified significant threats and permits, and funding have been approved. Changing the location now could endanger the project’s permits and funding and would cause the city to miss its 2025 deadline and risk adding FDEP fines to the project’s cost.

Both sides have made presentations to an aide to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz; critics of the proposed plant site hope Gaetz will help protect grants already in place and secure further funding to offset the cost of delaying the project. City staff will argue that the project is sound and should go ahead as planned.

Light Up Milton scheduled Friday

Light Up Milton takes place along the Blackwater River in downtown Milton. Events include:

  • 5 p.m. — Santa Claus at Riverwalk Pavilion;, Winter Market at Jernigan’s Landing West; Food truck court open to public
  • 5:30 p.m. — Tree-lighting ceremony at the intersection of Willing Street and U.S. Highway 90 (Caroline Street)
  • 6 p.m. — Lighted boat parade on the Blackwater River organized by the Blackwater Pyrates
  • After the boat parade — Fireworks on the Blackwater presented by Pyro Shows Inc.
  • 8 p.m. — Event ends

Young U.S. men’s soccer team deserves support

We’re writing this the day before the United States’ men’s team plays Iran with a berth in the knockout round of the World Cup at stake. Look, America’s not a soccer country – not yet. Many curious onlookers and casual fans complained vehemently about the Yanks’ 0-0 tie against England’s Three Lions the day after Thanksgiving, days after a 1-1 draw against little Wales in their first group-stage match.

But consider: the United States never has won the World Cup; never been to the semifinals. We didn’t even qualify for the world’s grandest of all competitions four years ago. American Exceptionalism may be a thing in some pursuits, but our men’s soccer teams still are pursuing soccer glory.

The Red, White and Blue are fielding the second-youngest roster among teams competing in Qatar. And, while many fans consider this group of players America’s “Golden Generation” – it is true that more young Yanks are succeeding at the highest levels of the sport than ever before – they still are very, very young.

Inexperience likely cost the US a win against Wales. The Americans led 1-0 with less than 10 minutes and stoppage time to play until center back Walker Zimmerman committed a reckless foul on an unnecessary challenge. Wales’ international superstar, Gareth Bale, buried the penalty kick in the 82nd minute and a match dominated by the US ended in a draw that felt like a missed opportunity.

While soccer seems perpetually crying for attention in the crowded American sports market, England is the ancestral home of association football. The Three Lions never have dominated the world’s game England claims to have created, winning just a single World Cup (in 1966), but this may be England’s best side since the Beatles conquered the world. England is a legitimate contender – something the US never has been in this competition – and will disappoint a nation if it fails to make the semifinals.

The realistic goal for the United States always has been to make it out of the group stages, something it has (hopefully) or hasn’t done by the time this edition of the Press Gazette hits the racks. Thirty-two teams qualified for the World Cup. A random draw splits the squads into eight groups of four. Each team plays each other team in its group, and the top two teams from each group advance to a 16-team knockout bracket.

With that in mind, please understand no sober fan of the game expected the United States to defeat England, and very few expected we might hold them to a draw. If they’re honest, most US fans probably expected to lose by multiple goals, hopefully not more than two.

So, to see our young side stand toe-to-toe with one of the world’s finest sides was thrilling for the true fans. Every England attack turned back WAS a score, every shot blocked, pass deflected or stolen, corner forced, header won…casual fans may not understand because none of these tiny victories change the scoreboard. But the sides’ body language after the England match was clear; we may only have earned a point in the group standings, but we won that match.

If Iran beat us Tuesday (tomorrow for this writer) and America’s World Cup dream dashed again, keep your heads up. This is a good squad. It will compete again in 2026, when the World Cup comes to North America. Our “Golden Generation” will be more polished, more experienced and better for these ties in Qatar.

And, if the U.S. is still in the fray, join us in wishing them well and, if you’re not a soccer fan, keep an open mind. Goals are dear in soccer, don’t expect one every few minutes. Study the struggle, the strategy, the emotion, the character of the sides…and don’t worry – if we’re playing in the knockout rounds, there will be no more ties.

Help wanted: WWTP project manager

A request for proposals issued in September received no response; when that happens, city policy allows the city council to authorize the city manager to seek products or services “by other means.” The council gave Jorgenson that authority at its committee of the whole meeting Thursday, Nov. 17.

Councilwoman Shannon Rice asked Jorgenson how he planned to find someone to take the job.

“There are a number of headhunting firms that may be of assistance in trying to identify an individual that could provide this service to the community,” Jorgenson said. “Further, there are personal contacts that we enjoy in state and federal regulatory agencies where they may be aware of individuals who possess these skills, in addition to reaching out to engineering firms with whom we have relationships and see if they could find someone that may in fact be interested and be qualified.”

The North Santa Rosa Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility is designed to be built in four phases, ultimately processing up to 8 million gallons of treated wastewater daily. The facility will serve most of Milton and rapidly growing East Milton, which includes three industrial parks.

The first phase, building the plant and the first set of rapid infiltration systems into which treated wastewater will be distributed, is expected to begin early next year and be completed in 2025. The city will fund the almost $44 million project with a mix of city reserves and state and federal grants and loans. Phase 1 will allow the city to process an additional 2 million gallons of treated wastewater each day.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the city to stop discharging treated wastewater into the Blackwater River from the existing Municipal Drive facility by the end of 2025. Besides the state deadline, the existing plant also is nearing capacity; it’s permitted to treat up to 2.5 million gallons per day, but in October, the plant had a 6-month daily average of 1.95 MGD, with total commitments of 2.45 MGD.

FDEP already has issued a construction permit for the plant, which will be built on a 24-acre site between Santa Rosa County Jail and the Blackwater River and is considering a permit application for the RIBS on a nearby 100-acre property.

Because numerous permitting and funding agencies are involved with the project – which has an expected cost greater than the city’s entire budget – staff asked council earlier this year to hire someone to manage the project full time.

Jorgenson confirmed to Councilman Shannon Rice that any prospect would have to meet the terms of the RFP, and that the council would make the final decision on whether that person would be hired.

“I don’t know that any of that work will result in anyone being obtained that we feel is the right person for this job,” he said, “and before any decision is made as it relates to an individual, that would be brought forward for the council’s consideration.”

Community activist Pam Mitchell, chairperson for the political action committee Milton’s Concerned Citizens, said she would prefer Jorgenson identify at least three candidates for the council’s consideration.

“I’d like there to be 30,” Jorgenson replied, “but we’ll see what the results are, and I’ll share that with council. It may be that we don’t get anyone to potentially provide the service; I don’t know. It’s conjecture. (The council is) just giving me the authority to find the answer to the question.”

Teacher of the Year: Berryhill Elementary School Children’s author helping plot students’ success

ToniAnn Handley, who earlier this year was selected by her peers as the school’s Teacher of the Year, grew up ToniAnn Bleecker outside New York City and graduated from Stony Brook University with a bachelor’s degree and a certificate to teach English in grades 6-12. But when she couldn’t find a teaching job, she went to work as an editor for the K-12 supplementary division of Pearson Education Publishing Co. She also worked as a freelance editor and pursued a writing career – a pursuit to which her day job provided a unique perspective.

“I worked in acquisitions; I had to write rejection letters to aspiring writers,” Handley said with a rueful smile. “As an aspiring writer, I’ve received hundreds of them.”

She worked at Pearson for four years, but when the company merged with Simon & Schuster and her division relocated to New Jersey, she decided it was too far to commute. The publishing company had paid for her to earn a master’s degree in elementary education at Long Island University, which came with k-6 teaching certification. She taught third grade for a year but, when her first child was born, decided to be a stay-at-home mother.

Her previous husband, a U.S. marshal, survived the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2021, at the World Trade Center’s twin towers. The couple decided that, for his mental health, they needed to leave New York. The U.S. Marshals Service arranged to transfer him to Pensacola in 2002.

“We thought, ‘Wow, Florida!’” Handley said. “We were thinking about Miami, Orlando…then we found out we were going to Pensacola. We didn’t know anything about Pensacola.”

Handley has lived in the Pace area ever since. She and her first husband divorced; she currently is married to Kim Handley, a U.S. Department of Defense civilian firefighter at Naval Air Station Pensacola. She has two children from her first marriage, Nicholas Guadagnoli, 22, a senior at the University of Florida, and GianMarco Guadagnoli, 18, a senior at Pace High School.

While raising her children, Handley continued to write and take freelance editing jobs. Persistence paid off and her children’s book, “Chitter Chatter,” was published in 2004 (under her married name).

Her commitment to her children and education eventually found common cause when her son’s third-grade teacher at S.S. Dixon Intermediate – Karen Carrese who, unbeknownst to Handley, also sponsored the school’s drama program – asked her to write a children’s play.

That first play, “Groove-A-Rella,” and one the next year, “Aw, Shucks,” were hits, so much so that Carrese convinced Handley to submit them for publication. Publishing companies bought both plays, and both have been performed in more than 30 states and several foreign nations. She gets a royalty check anytime a school buys copies of the script.

“It’s not a lot, but it’s nice,” she said. “It’s fun to say I’m a published playwright.”

Maybe more importantly, the connection with Carrese – and her need for a job after her divorce – brought her back to the classroom. She began substitute teaching in middle and high schools in Santa Rosa County in 2013 and, the same year, accepted a position as a paraprofessional at Dixon Primary. In 2018, she became the guidance assessment assistant at Berryhill Elementary in Milton. That job led to her current position as the multi-tiered support system (MTSS) coordinator and K-5 interventionist at Berryhill.

“I take a lot of pride in knowing that no child will fall through the cracks under my watch,” she said of her role identifying students who may need help to perform at grade-level. “The teachers and my admin know they can come to me, and I will do everything in my power to assist in helping our teachers and our students.”

As an interventionist, Handley works one-on-one or in small groups with students struggling with reading or math.

 “It is extremely rewarding to watch them learn and grow,” she said. “It is also beautiful to be invested in their success and to know that my little bit of time with them makes a difference.”

Handley said her grandfather wanted her mother to teach.

“He would say it is ideal to have the same schedule as your young children,” she said. “My mom didn’t take his advice, but I did. As always, he was right.”

When she’s not working, Handley said she likes to travel and hike – she’s trying to visit every national park; write (mostly screenplays), eat out, watch movies and cook.

Each year, the Santa Rosa Education Foundation honors the Santa Rosa Teacher of the Year as well as teachers of the year from its 35 schools at its annual Golden Apple Awards celebration. The selection process begins before the holidays each year, when teachers at each site nominate and vote for their school’s teacher of the year.

The district’s teacher of the year will compete for the Florida Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year award. According to the Santa Rosa Education Foundation website, the Teacher of the Year Program, which began in 1988, “celebrates the contributions of classroom teachers who demonstrate a superior capacity to inspire a love of learning in students of all backgrounds and abilities.” Sandpaper Publishing features winners in its coverage area each week, culminating in coverage of the Golden Apple Awards in May.

SRC Commission skips Calkins, names Wright chairman

Commissioner James Calkins, vice chairman for the board’s 2021-2022 term, presided over the first part of the commission’s organizational meeting Tuesday, Nov. 22. After County Judge Robert Hilliard administered the oath of office to new commissioners Kerry Smith (District 2) and Ray Eddington (District 4), District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker nominated Wright to lead the board.

Parker, elected in 2016, became the longest-serving member of the board with the retirement of Bob Cole, who served District 2 for 20 years. He said he reflected on the chairman’s responsibilities during a recent hunting trip before deciding to nominate Wright.

“When it comes to choosing the chairman of the board, I think there’s a lot more to it than most people realize,” he said. “A lot of people see the meetings, and they see the person that says we’re starting and says we’re adjourning and recognizes speakers, but what you don’t see are the things outside of the board room, things such as working with our staff members, and not just our admin team, but other staff members.”

Parker said the chairman represents an organization with hundreds of employees and a budget of more than $200 million. The chairman must ensure residents, county employees and current and prospective business owners are served, he said, but added that the chairman’s greatest challenge comes in times of crisis.

“Our chairman has to be there to make, sometimes, those hard decisions and emergency calls and be the liaison with our civic groups as well as our first responders and our admin team when we can’t be there in times of natural disasters,” Parker said, offering Hurricane Sally and the Garcon Point fire as recent examples.

“I wanted to point out the magnitude, that it is much more than just the person who sits there and runs the meeting,” Parker said. “Based on my time on the board and the things I’ve witnessed, I think it is my duty to nominate Commissioner Colten Wright to be the chairman of the board….”

Calkins supported the nomination, which passed without objection.

“I agree with you 100 percent,” Calkins said. “I think Colten Wright has served honorably and he has my full support and I wish (him) well. I’ll agree to that.”

Wright thanked the commissioners for “the faith that you gentlemen have put in me” and said he will lead the board “with integrity and do so honorably.”

Wright then nominated Parker to serve as vice chairman; his motion passed without objection.

Eddington and Smith both thanked their supporters and said God had moved them to pursue election to the commission.

Smith began attending commission meetings during debate over revising the land development code. He said he often sat in the audience and said, “It takes a special kind of idiot to sit up there and put a target on his back.”

“Well, here I am, I’m that special kind of idiot, because somewhere along the line, God put it in my heart to go for this, and I thank him for it,” Smith said. He ended his remarks by saying, “I thank you; I love ya, and I’m going to do my best to do the job I was put up here to do.”

Eddington emphasized his commitment to work for the county’s residents.

“If it wasn’t for y’all out there (at the commission boardroom Thursday) and the people of Santa Rosa, I wouldn’t be here today,” Eddington said. “I made a promise I would work for y’all, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Eddington urged residents to visit his office, saying that he wanted to meet people and hear their problems.

“I’m going to work with the staff and other commissioners at all times,” he said. “We’ve got to work with the people if we want to make Santa Rosa a good county, so people will love to come and live here with us…I will do my best for everybody here.”

Owner asks for Applegate Street variance

Maritza Lee filed the request for Luke 16:11 LLC, a Pensacola corporation that owns a duplex and quadplex at 6630 Applegate St. The corporation wants to divide the eastern portion of the parcel to create a separate lot for the duplex. That lot would have a 50-foot lot width and 5,250-square-foot lot area, smaller than the city Unified Development Code’s requirement of a 100-foot lot width and 10,000-square-foot area for property zoned R3 (multi-family residential).

On her application, Lee said having both buildings on a single parcel makes it more difficult for a prospective buyer to acquire a loan (because of the number of units on the property, buyers must apply for a commercial, rather than a residential, loan, Lee explained).

Wallace Lake rezoning creates ripple effect

“Typically, when we do rezone to serve a new school, it’s not simply one school that’s affected,” Joey Harrell, Santa Rosa County District Schools Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, said at a school board workshop Thursday, Nov. 17, in Milton. “There’s a kind of rollover effect for schools in the area depending on their needs.”

Harrell presented staff’s recommendations for rezoning several Milton- and Pace-area schools to balance enrollments and ensure capacity at schools expecting growth because of the new residential developments in the area. Maps are available for parents’ review at each of the eight schools listed above showing how the recommendation is expected to affect their enrollments and school zones. The maps also are available at the superintendent’s office at the Dillon Center, 6032 U.S. Highway 90, Milton, and online.

The board will schedule a public hearing on the revised attendance zones at its Dec. 8 meeting.

District staff expect construction of Wallace Lake K-8 School to be completed next summer and open in time for the 2023-24 school year. The new school at the intersection of Chumuckla Highway and Wallace Lake Road is designed to accommodate up to 1,207 students; the state recommends not exceeding 90 percent capacity at any school – that figure is 1,086 students for the new building.

The new school will draw 7th– and 8th-grade students from Central and elementary students from Chumuckla, Dixon Primary and Dixon Intermediate, Harrell explained.

Students in the Whispering Woods subdivision will be moved from Berryhill Elementary to Dixon Primary and Dixon Intermediate; students between East Spencer Field and West Spencer Field roads who attend Pea Ridge Elementary will attend Dixon Primary or Dixon Intermediate; and students between East Spencer Field and West Spencer Field roads who attend Avalon Middle will transfer to Sims Middle.

As of Sept. 16, capacity at the eight schools affected by the proposed rezoning ranged between 86 percent occupied at Pea Ridge Elementary to 106 percent at both Sims and Dixon Primary. Pea Ridge was the only school of the eight the capacity of which was below the state’s recommended 90-percent mark.

If the board adopts staff’s recommendation, Berryhill would be 94 percent full, the only one of the affected schools with higher-than-recommended usage. The other schools would range between 72 percent at Dixon Intermediate and 84 percent at Avalon Middle.

The district does permit parents to transfer students to schools out of their assigned zone under certain circumstances, Harrell said. For example, military parents can choose which school their children attend, school staff can enroll their children at the building in which they teach, and students may be enrolled at an out-of-zone school if it provides resources not available at their assigned school. For more information about student transfers to out-of-zone schools, see the district’s website, www.santarosa.k12.fl.us.

Board Chairwoman Wei Ueberschaer said some parents naturally would be anxious about the change, but “students will be moving from a great school to a great school.”

“The good news is, people are choosing to come to Santa Rosa County, and I believe in a great part because of our great school system.”

Harrell already is projecting the need for another K-8 school in the Pace area. Using a formula to calculate the need for student space for each lot of a new development, he projects that The Lakes of Woodbine and Parkland Place subdivisions have the potential to create 256 middle school students and 427 elementary school students.

“After buildout, we’re back to 109, 95, 102 (percentage capacity at Dixon Primary, Dixon Intermediate and Sims Middle schools),” Harrell said. “It’s time to build another school.”

Councilmembers at odds over U.S. Highway 90 study

The city received just one response to its request for proposals to identify alternatives to the state’s planned widening of U.S. Highway 90 through the city’s historic downtown. Earlier this year, the council approved spending up to $100,000 from reserves for the study as part of its campaign to convince the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization and, ultimately, the Florida Department of Transportation, not to widen Caroline Street from two to four lanes between Stewart Street and Ward Basin Road.

The community has been bitterly divided whether to fight widening or cooperate with FDOT since the state announced its plan in 2019.

Councilwoman Shannon Rice – who supports finding a better way to move traffic around Milton but opposes spending taxpayers’ money for the study – argued adamantly that the council should take no further action on the study.

“Considering the outcome of this last election and that this is a controversial item, I think we should scrap this and let it come back again before the new city council,” Rice said when staff asked for direction on how to proceed with the project. She made a motion to reject the bid from Geo One Tech LLC, a Jacksonville consulting firm, without objection.

To which Councilman Vernon Compton, who originally suggested the study, and Councilwoman Shari Sebastiao quickly objected.

“This firm put together a strong proposal…They have the capacity to do the work that we requested them to do,” Compton said. “They have over 80 years of transportation experience among the team members, and It’s related to all the things that we’ve asked of them, so why we would delay further when we have a firm that is a Florida firm with lots of experience with FDOT, and that’s really what we’re desiring? I don’t know why we would delay any further.”

But Compton’s assessment of the bid didn’t match staff’s appraisal.

Economic Development Director Ed Spears and Planning Director Tim Milstead wrote in a report included in the council’s meeting materials that Geo One Tech submitted a “responsive” bid but added that staff has concerns about the firm’s ability to develop feasible alternate routes — a “major component” of the RFP.

Compton moved approval without objection of passing the Geo One Tech proposal to the Dec. 5 executive committee meeting. Rice objected and Sebastiao seconded Compton’s motion. But Rice wasn’t through; she noted that neither Compton nor Sebastiao, who supported the study, had won reelection.

When Sebastiao told Rice the vote on the Geo One Tech proposal wasn’t about the election, Rice fired back that “everything’s about the election.”

“This is about what the people want,” she said. “It’s everything about the election. The people do not want you; the people do not want your opinion; they don’t want your votes.”

All three councilmembers seeking reelection – Compton, Robert Leek, and Sebastiao – lost by at least 6 percent of the ballots cast in their race. Leek, like Rice – who chose not to seek reelection for personal reasons – opposes spending taxpayer money to fund a study that many residents don’t believe will sway the state’s plans.

Mayor Pro Tem Casey Powell, a councilmember who presides at committee of the whole meetings, asked the councilmembers to calm down or he would call a recess.

“We’re yelling about it because the people do not want to hear from them, so they should not be making a motion and seconding it,” Rice told Powell.

Sebastiao replied to Rice that “We’re still here and we still have that right.”

Rice: “I’m glad your rights mean more than the people’s rights; sorry, that’s what you’re saying, that your rights mean more than the people’s do.”

Sebastiao: “No, the people’s do.”

Rice: “The people never elected you (the council appointed Compton and Sebastiao to fill vacant seats).”

Sebastiao: “Perfect.”

Powell called a 10-minute recess to let the councilmembers regain their composure.

After the recess, several residents spoke to support Rice, and Leek confirmed with Jorgenson that staff has concerns about the Geo One Tech proposal.

Jorgenson suggested that, if the council wanted to continue pursuing a study, it should invite Geo One Tech to present its proposal and answer questions at the Dec. 5 executive committee meeting. He added that inviting the councilmembers-elect – Mike Cusack, Marilyn Farrow, Gavin Hawthorne and Jason Vance – would ensure they would be ready to vote if the proposal were forwarded to the Dec. 13 regular meeting, at which the new members will take their oaths.

Compton and Sebastiao moved and seconded such a motion, which passed 5-2 with Leek and Rice opposed. Councilwoman Roxanne Meiss was absent.



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