WASHINGTON COUNTY - As recovery efforts are still in full swing in Washington County four months after Hurricane Michael cut a swath of destruction through the Panhandle, county officials are prioritizing projects to tackle first.
Several state and federal entities are working in conjunction with the county to make the recovery process a relatively painless one. The USDA, Army Corp of Engineers, HUD, and other various agencies are all working toward the same goal, to bring Washington County back to business as usual.
The number one priority for the county is the deficiencies in the water and sewer systems that were exposed during the storm, according to County Administrator Jeff Massey.
"When Michael came through, deficiencies in our systems that we did not have prior knowledge of came to light," said Massey. "Our number one priority as a county is to resolve these issues. The biggest obstacle we face currently is how we will get the water down to the spray field in the Sand Hills."
Army Corp of Engineers and USDA are looking into solutions for the issue, along with funding sources to fix the issues, in order to find a long-term solution. At one point, the county applied for $5 million in state funding, however, on his last day, former state governor Rick Scott rejected the request.
With only 87,000 gallons left in capacity for the City of Chipley's waste water treatment facility, the need for the spray field is great. The City recently closed on 485 acres of land on Pike Pond Road in the Sand Hills for future spray field use.
Although roads come in second on the list, they remain a standing priority for the county, particularly after the storm.
Massey says a watershed study is set to be completed to give the county a better idea of where they stand.
"We are having a watershed survey done to assess the scope of work that will need to be done," said Massey. "We will be able to determine choke points where water isn't draining as well as develop a map to identify problem areas and develop solutions."
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is seeking solutions to the housing shortage facing the entire Panhandle as many homes were destroyed.
A shortage of housing resulted after Washington County had an influx of people move in from surrounding counties from harder hit impacted areas. From finding developers to build affordable housing to some other means of constructing dwellings, HUD is working diligently to help the county and the citizens in any way possible, officials said.
The debris removal efforts are running steady with 940,000 cubic yards having been picked up county wide as of February 6.
There is much work left to be done, but Massey says they will keep the ball rolling until the job is done.
"Long-term recovery is an ongoing process," said Massey. "We are coordinating with different agencies to help us achieve our goals. We will keep the ball rolling to get the job done."