No more water-boiling alerts. No more weird-looking, cloudy-looking, or on occasion strange smelling water. No more third-world water and sewer treatment for Bunnell. On Wednesday, the city commemorating the opening of its new, $4.8 million water and sewer plant to cheers and relief of city officials led by Mayor Catherine Robinson.
“Of any project that I’ve been involved in in over 20 years on the Bunnell City Commission,” Robinson said, “this is the one, this is the one I’ve cried the most tears over, this is the phone I’ve had the most phone calls over, this is the one I’ve agonized over in trying to strategize over how do we fix the water. So I’m very excited that this project got done on my watch. Had to make my watch long to make it happen.”
She recalled the day when she saw a $99,000 deficit in the city’s water and wastewater budget. “That was a bad day for me and I actually broke down and cried,” she said, which had been the result from the commission not increasing the water rates to have the funds for replacement of the city’s infrastructure. Robinson said she took responsibility for that as well. “So it’s kind of a full circle for me to come back and still be here,” Robinson said. She credited the United States Department of Agriculture for its help underwriting the project with the state Department of Environmental Protection, and interim funding from Ameris Bank in town .
The city broke ground on the project at 100 Utility Drive in Bunnell on Aug. 11, 2014, on what to be an ion exchange water treatment plant, which in essence removes contaminants from the water in an “exchange” with substances that are not contaminating. (When contaminants dissolve in water, they form ions.) The custom-built plant will rid city water of trihalomethane, a polluting chemical considered carcinogenic that’s usually used as a solvent in various industries.
Larry Williams, the city manager on whose watch the plant was built, and who will be leaving the city at the end of the day—he’s been replaced by Dan Davis, formerly the city’s deputy clerk and city clerk—described the project as a “miracle,” though there was nothing miraculous about federal and state support for the city’s needs, or where that support came from.
“Water is free. It’s the processing, the delivery that costs all the money,” said Richard Machek, a presidential appointment who attended the groundbreaking: President Obama appointed Machek five years ago to be the state director of the USDA’s rural development in Florida. Machek, a Volusia County native, continued: “It’s got so that as population has got into our state in kind of an abundance, our water has taken a hit. It’s getting harder and harder and harder to find a lot of drinkable water without filtration and treatment, so you’re right on track here.”
Perry Mitrano, the city’s solid waste director, described the water as “The best tasting water ever. No need to buy a filter system in Bunnell, it’s that good.”
County commissioners Charlie Ericksen and Nate McLaughlin attended the opening. McLaughlin said the system, designed by Raleigh, N.C.-based McKim and Creed engineering, “is the first in the County to use this new technology and I congratulate Bunnell on their achievment.”
“We take our water for granted sometimes until it comes out brown,” Robinson said.