Bluewater United foundation is one of several organizations which have popped up in the changing landscape (literally) of Bluewater Bay.
In the last six months, at least two groups have formed to do something about the changes that could take place in the former swamps and bogs east and south of Rocky Bayou.
Earlier this year – we told you about Preserve Bluewater Bay, an organization that focuses on saving a least some of the golfing and green space associated with Bluewater Bay. They have since begun to manage the Bay and Marsh Courses, totaling 18 holes. They also have three holes on the Lake Course that can be used for practice. The other areas of the mega-complex have been slated for housing development and are in various stages of the approval process.
That brings us to the Bluewater United Foundation – another citizen group focused on similar, but not the same, priorities.
Joe Testa spent the past several decades living life in Bluewater Bay. One of his favorite parts about living here was being able to commute to work. On his commute, he’d come over a hill on John Sims Parkway and get a glimpse of a crew with clubs swinging their way across one of Bluewater’s three courses before it got too hot.
But he’s noticed some changes that are not as idyllic. He says the infrastructure that holds Bluewater Bay together and keeps its property values high has begun to strain under heavy use, poor upkeep, and just plain ol’ age as the years have gone on. While the demand to live in Bluewater Bay is as high as ever, the need to keep the infrastructure in serviceable condition has not. “Bluewater Bay is 50 years old,” Testa said, “and all of that infrastructure is aging. And no central organization pulls all this together and looks where it should be reversed.”
Additionally, because so many of the roads, culverts, ditches, and retention ponds are privately owned by the various HOAs – the County Government can’t do much about them. The Municipal Benefits Services Unit (MSBU), set up by the County Government to tax Bluewater Bay residents for increased services, does cover some of the issues on public roads and rights of way – but the need of the community dwarfs the amount of money collected by the MSBU. Too many properties have paid too few taxes for too long. Now, Bluewater Bay is beginning to see an infrastructure crisis take shape.
Because of the patchwork of areas the various HOAs are responsible for – the is no economy of scale to deal with the significant infrastructure problems the site has or will need to prepare for in the future. That’s where Testa and his non-profit, the Bluewater United Foundation, come in.
Testa hopes the foundation will serve as a coordinating clearinghouse for people in Bluewater Bay to improve the area. Everyone from the people passionate about repainting chipped traffic lights to repaying sidewalks and roads can use the virtual infrastructure of the committee’s website to organize and respond to issues they are passionate about.
“We’re the infrastructure,” Testa said, “we’re here to provide the coaching.”
Is incorporation into a city the best option for Bluewater Bay? What about formally becoming a part of Niceville? Those are both options for those living in the Bluewater Bay Area.
Currently, residents of Bluewater Bay pay property taxes to five different taxing units: the Okaloosa County School District, the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners, the North Bay Fire District, the Parks Municipal Services Taxing Unit, and the Northwest Florida Water District. If a homeowner has a home valued at $400,000 – they can expect to pay $5,018.36 in property taxes yearly.
If that same house got picked up and moved into the city limits of Niceville – the same taxpayer could expect to pay another $420 per year in property taxes. In exchange, the homeowner would receive police protection, more fire protection, dedicated water, sewer, a public works department, and more. That revenue could be the difference between busted-up sidewalks, slower first responder response times, and other issues affecting property values and quality of life.
Testa, with Bluewater United, says that Bluewater United is not specifically in favor of creating a formal city – or incorporating it into the City of Niceville – but it may not be a bad idea, either. He says a more thorough analysis of the options is merited. “No one wants to pay higher taxes, and no one wants to add more bureaucracy to what they have. But at the same time, almost to a person if you ask, ‘hey, do you think Bluewater Bay is better now than it was ten years ago?’ Every single one of them will say it looks worse,” Testa said.
Improvements in Bluewater Bay pose a tricky question – after all, many roads and stormwater infrastructure are private – not county-owned.
After an email exchange between myself and Okaloosa County Public Information Officer April Sarver – it seems there will be some movement on stormwater infrastructure on a large scale this summer as the county attacks the FY ‘23 annual budget.
“Staff is requesting funding for a county-wide stormwater master plan, which will likely include some level of analysis of the Bluewater Bay stormwater system,” Sarver wrote, “but it likely will not include detailed information for the full system in Bluewater Bay (or any other area for that matter). [The master plan study] will enable staff to identify areas of concern throughout the county for further analysis/study/improvement.”
In addition to the county staff’s request for a stormwater survey, Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Mel Ponder has also discussed some improvements in Bluewater Bay. According to the Okaloosa County Public Information Department, Ponder has discussions with leaders from Okaloosa County’s Public Works and Growth Management Departments about issues relating to stormwater in Bluewater Bay. Ponder represents Bluewater Bay on the Commission.
According to the county, the projects and proposals discussed for the Bluewater Bay Area will be brought in front of the whole commission in July.