Panama City approves $305 million plan to improve water, sewer

By: Tony Mixon

PANAMA CITY — Panama City leaders approved a $305 million infrastructure plan Tuesday to improve city drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems. 

The large, multi-year project will use a combination of federal disaster aid and loans to cover the cost. It’s a project long in the making to address the city’s crumbling, aging infrastructure that has caused numerous sewage overflows and flooding issues in recent years, particularly after Hurricane Michael in 2018. 

Members of the Panama City Utilities Department replace a 2-inch galvanized waterline near the intersection of 15th Street and Lisenby Avenue on Wednesday. The city has recently approved a large-scale plan to upgrade local infrastructure.

Because of the Category 5 storm, the city now has the opportunity to use Federal Emergency Management Agency recovery money in combination with Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR) money.

The federal money won’t fund the entire project, so the City Commission on Tuesday also approved resolutions to apply for two State Revolving Fund loans totaling about $113 million. One loan of about $73 million will be used for the drinking water system while the other loan of about $39.9 million will be used to improve the wastewater system. 

Beano Simmons, foreman for the Panama City Utilities Department (left), works alongside Michael Schwartz, assistant foreman, and Joshua Jenkins Jr, service worker.

Out of the $113 million from the state, 25% of it is forgivable, according to Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki.

«The other 75% we’ll have to make payments on, but we don’t start on the payments for six months,» Brudnicki said. «It’s interest-free, so that helps our taxpayers and that helps get started and gets these things done.»

This map shows where Panama City's wastewater infrastructure is in most need of repair.

Brudnicki said replacing the water lines around the city will take five to 10 years to complete. 

Based on the facilities plan developed by the engineering firm Mott MacDonald, the Glenwood and Millville communities are among the top priority areas. Residents in those communities will start to see infrastructure improvements first.

This map that shows areas of Panama City's drinking water system in most need of repair.

The city recognizes that some water lines need to be replaced to reduce leaks and the need for boil notices. Still, some residents are concerned about the construction. Panama City resident Walter Henry said at Tuesday’s meeting that he is concerned about how people will get to their homes when the construction starts.

Water flowed along 15th Street on Tuesday as a crew with the Panama City Utilities Department replaces a waterline.

«I know some of these streets, in these residences, are small and the whole street is going to be taken out,» Henry said. «I know it’s got to be done, but I’m concerned about how we’re going to get to our residences.»

The project will begin in the soft development stages soon, according to Brudnicki. City officials just needed to know for sure that they would get funding to get started.

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