BONIFAY — Speaker pro tempore Marti Coley and Senate President Don Gaetz visited Holmes County to listen to comments, questions and concerns from the residents and representatives of Holmes County on Dec. 2 at the Holmes County District School Board for the 2014 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature.
City Council member Roger Brooks was present on behalf of the City of Bonifay to request funding in the amount of $500,000 to go towards their ongoing water project.
“The existing water distribution system includes much of the original piping which is more than 50 years old,” said Brooks. “The system doesn’t provide adequate fire protection in all areas, requires continuous maintenance and is in need of replacement to maintain public health and safety. Several potable water pipe replacement projects have been completed, however, there is much of the system still in need of replacement.”
He explained that there was cause for concern for residents’ health because “the majority of distribution lines were originally constructed with asbestos cement and cast iron pipe” that has now deteriorated.
Most of the system was constructed with two-inch to four-inch diameter pipes “which are inadequate in size and the two-inch lines are not in compliance with state requirements and some of the old pipes include lead joints which are prone to leak and are also a concern for health and safety,” he added.
“The city is experiencing up to 31 percent water loss from the amount pumped and has safety concerns with the leaking water lines,” said Brooks. “As the lines leak they can create subsurface voids prior to collapsing at the surface; with many of the line beneath the roadway, this can create a driving hazard. Also, during installation and maintenance of adjacent utilities, caution is required for trench excavation near the water lines.”
He said that the city has been able to prevent many health issues by quickly responding to pipe repairs while issuing boil water notices when “loss of pressure occurs during repairs.”
“Replacing the old deteriorated pipes with the appropriate size pipe is recommended, which will reduce maintenance of the old system, promote public health and safety, provide adequate fire protection and provide an acceptable and reliable level of service to the customers,” said Brooks.
City Grant Writer Bob Jones also stood before legislation to plead their cause.
“We’re trying to be pro-active,” said Jones. “We’re already entering in phase two and now we are in need of funding for phase three. I know funding is limited so we wanted to start earlier than we did last year.”
Gaetz commended the City of Bonifay for their continued efforts in this project as well as their well-prepared presentation.
“It shows what the city is committed to and it helps show that instead of the state bailing some city out of a crisis that instead it would be a partnership,” said Gaetz.
Coley said that a lot of water system funding was denied last year and that she and Gaetz came before them to explain the importance of this funding to improve water systems.
“We tried to explain why water projects are important and I’ve got a good feeling that they have more of an understanding this time around,” said Coley. “This is a team effort so we’ll see what we can do if we work together.”
Executive Director of the Holmes County Tourist Development Council Raymond Thomas was the next to speak.
Thomas said that for rural areas the Tourist Development Council isn’t working as well as it could is due to inadequate funding.
“Rural areas are hurting and we need help,” said Thomas. “We need people to know that we’re more than beaches and airports around here. The Chinese are coming with over 60 places developed in the United States with zero being in the State of Florida.”
He said that there is an upcoming gathering of 562 Chinese developers attending a conference in Dothan at the amount of $800 and he said he “already booked his ticket,” requesting that he not be the only representative from Florida present.
“Opportunity Florida has a good grasp on what needs to be done,” said Coley. “They just need to go back to its original intent of communicating with each individual counties. I also agree that we also have to have jobs in this area so that we and our kids and our grand kids don’t have to move away to find work.”
Gaetz informed everyone that there would be an announcement made the next day that would affect Holmes County and had to do with travel.
Resident Charles Smith came before the legislative representatives to say that there needs to be more of an emphasis made on getting the children certified in technology.
“We’re still teaching our children how to be farmers,” said Smith. “Pretty soon there’ll be no more blue-collar jobs because blue collar jobs are the easiest to kill in the technologically advanced society. We’re just going to produce a lot of unemployed and undereducated children.”
Gaetz assured him that measures have already been implemented on making sure that students have industry certification and that there are incentives for teachers if they can produce industry certified students who are ready for the workforce.
Superintendent of Schools Eddie Dixon thanked them for being able to attend the meeting.
“This is how a team works,” said Gaetz. “Don’t be shy with your concerns. Call us, email us, visit us or invite us over because we do neighborhood sessions and we do a lot better when we listen better.”
Coley said she always enjoys her visits.
“Everyone has been so open and friendly here,” said Coley. “South Florida may have representatives on every block but we’ve got team work. The important thing is team work so don’t be afraid to call us any time; our door is always open.”