An agreement between Bay County and RockTenn, owner/operator of the Panama City paper mill, will transfer responsibility for on-site wastewater treatment to the company.
"This is something that we've been looking forward to for a long time," said County Commissioner George Gainer.
The county has operated and maintained a treatment facility and subaqueous pipeline that carries wastewater from the RockTenn mill and Arizona Chemical to a treatment lagoon on Tyndall Air Force Base.
"Getting rid of that responsibility and liability, which is basically a private concern's issue, is just smart business for us," said Dan Shaw, Assistant County Manager. "It's revenue neutral... we don't make any money, we just pass along the cost of the operation."
"Right now we have all the risk… we're responsible for it all," Jennifer Shuler, Assistant County Attorney, told commissioners at last week's board meeting. "We're trying to transfer away that responsibility."
Under the terms of the agreement, the county will transfer its Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit and ownership of the pipeline to the company. The county will remain on the land lease with Tyndall AFB, but sublease the lagoon to RockTenn.
"They are pledging to take this over but they're giving us some financial assurances," said Shuler. "We have set up what I believe are pretty strong protections for the county."
Gainer expressed concern over long-term liability at last week's meeting, but the board approved the deal on a 5-0 vote.
Robin Keegan, RockTenn's communications director, said the company is "thrilled" to partner with the county in what she called a "win-win" arrangement. Keegan said transfer of wastewater treatment obligations will allow the company to better manage its Panama City facility.
"Since we're in control of it, we determine when to spend money on certain things," said Shaw. "By them taking control of the facility, they can make those business decisions themselves rather than have to go through us."
Shaw said the transition could be completed within 45 days if all that's required is a simple permit transfer. According to Terrell Arline, County Attorney, the process could take six months to a year if the state requires revision of the existing submerged land lease for the pipeline.