The city of Milton is one of the oldest cities in Florida and therefore steeped in history; a history that has become an important pillar in the values of its community. Incorporated in 1844, Milton was a major hub for timber, brick, naval stores and the shipbuilding industry. What drew those industries was the Blackwater River, 56+ miles long, flowing from southern Alabama to the Florida panhandle and finally into the Gulf of Mexico. It is also one of the only remaining pristine sand bottom rivers in the United States.
In 2018, a group of neighbors gathered to form Milton’s Concerned Citizens, initially calling for transparency and accountability in their local, municipal government. Over time they have grown to 2,000+ supporters and built partnerships in their community to share their efforts. As it also turns out, the concern about transparency was well warranted and continues.
Milton, FL has been enduring pollution from their wastewater plant for multiple decades. Wastewater from the sewerage system goes through the city’s treatment plant, which removes solids, chemicals and other impurities, leaving only water, which is called effluent. Since 1945, the effluent from the City of Milton’s wastewater plant has been discharged directly into the Blackwater River.
In 2022, the city faces two problems.
The first is complying with a consent decree by the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection to remove the effluent from the river by 2025, which it has ignored while the current plant ages.
The second is Milton finds itself in one of the fastest growing regions in the U.S. In a recent report, Pam Mitchell of Milton’s Concerned Citizens said that 10,000 new homes have been approved for construction in the matter of a few weeks. In addition, the current plant is facing a deadline at the end of 2023, when it will reach maximum capacity. With the deadline approaching, after years of inaction, the city of Milton proposed a new sewer treatment plant northeast of town overlooking the Blackwater River.
Although they understand the need, Milton’s Concerned Citizens feel the location of the plant, which had moved once the costs were calculated, is ill-conceived and puts Cooper’s Basin, equally at risk as the Blackwater River. The plan is for the new wastewater treatment plant to discharge stormwater into Cooper’s Basin, which is home to federally endangered Gulf Sturgeon as well as many other species, including manatees. As Pam Mitchell noted in a report:
“The basin already has an issue with vegetative growth. Any influx of stormwater or when (not if) there is a failure on the part of the plant, raw sewage or partially treated effluent, and the effects would be disastrous. The basin is spring fed. We have seeping springs here rather than vented springs. The proposed site for both the sewer plant and the 100 acres for the [Rapid Infiltration Basins] are on a seeping slope. Sand with springs and no bedrock. The proposed plant site and the 100 acres for the RIBS are separated by a small parcel of land that holds a historic cemetery.”– Pam Mitchell, Milton’s Concerned Citizens
Milton’s Concerned Citizens are pushing for a much more sophisticated treatment plant solution in a different location to keep the Blackwater River safe and provide reusable water for the fastest growing county in Florida, Santa Rosa. Through Anthropocene Alliance, the group is connecting to scientists and policy advisors.
Written by Michele Gielis
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Air Pollution, Erosion-Subsidence, Flooding, Heat, Hurricanes, Sea Level Rise, Water Contamination, Wildfires
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