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Florida's Small, Rural Communities Get Funding Boost From State

Pictured here is a white water tower with black letters printed across it spelling, "Alford."
Peyton Gay
The Town of Alford is getting a $600,000 dollar grant to make its water system more resilient to storms. The town’s Mayor George Gay says when Hurricane Michael hit, winds toppled trees. As they fell over, their roots pulled water pipes out of the ground. He says water leaked out of those pipes, causing about a quarter of the town’s residents to lose access to water.

The state is sending nearly $30 million to small and rural communities across Florida. The money comes from a federally funded grant program aimed at improving infrastructure and developing local economies.

The town of Alford is one of many communities slated to receive a grant from the program. Its officials will get $600,000 to make their water system more resilient to storms. That includes building a new water pipe to directly connect two wells. Alford's Mayor George Gay says right now, water must travel throughout town to get from well to well. He says that became a problem during Hurricane Michael.

"It being an older established town, we had a lot of 100-year-old oaks, big pine trees that had been here for 70 years, large root systems. Well, those root systems when it took the trees, it started snatching water lines out of the ground," Gay says.

Gay says that caused leaks throughout the system. And he says nearly a quarter of residents lost access to water.

"We were 21 days without power, so needless to say, water was not the first priority for some of the contractors that were coming in and fixing things. They were trying to get power back to the citizens. Get them cut out of their houses, get trees off their houses. So as that went on, what we realized at that point is we had to upgrade water to get to [the] point that we wouldn't run into this in the future," Gay says.

Gay says if there's another storm, the new pipe will ensure residents with pipes still intact can get water. He says state funding for the project is critical because Alford doesn't get enough revenue through taxes to pay for it. Liberty County is in a similar situation. The area will receive $700,000 from the grant program to pave five dirt roads and replace water meters.

"Being a smaller fiscally constrained county, not having the funds to be able to put up a large amount towards a resurfacing project is difficult for a small county," Daniel Stanley, Liberty County's Clerk of Court, says.

He says that dirt from unpaved roads can flow into ditches during heavy rains, where it finds its way into nearby creeks and rivers.

"So, you have water quality if you will that is decreased as a result of that sedimentation and erosion," Stanley says.

Stanley also says dirt roads can wash out during heavy rain, making it harder for residents living off these roads to get in and out of their homes.

"It can be a major issue on a tropical storm, a hurricane, or just a four- or five-inch dump at a thunderstorm that can occur," Stanley says.

Communities receiving program grants hope improvements to their infrastructure will attract more businesses to their area. For example, take the City of Carrabelle. It's receiving $650,000 to revitalize its downtown area. Carrabelle's Mayor Brenda La Paz says the most crucial change will be replacing decorative lamps along Marine Street.

"These lamp fixtures have been unable to be maintained by the city or the community redevelopment agency for years," La Paz says.

La Paz says the city relies on these lamps to light up Marine Street, but they often break, leaving most of the area in the dark.

"To have Marine Street in the dark, it's not good. It's not safe. It promotes activities that we don't want to have in downtown Carrabelle," La Paz says.

La Paz says the grant will fund new lights for Marine Street, repairs to the sidewalk, replacing the downtown boardwalk, and more. She says the goal of these changes is to remove blight.

"Once you start cleaning up and picking up and lighting an area, bringing light into the area, and rehabbing your public facilities—when the private sector sees the public sector investing in itself, the private sector is more encouraged to come and make an investment as well," La Paz says.

La Paz's goal is to motivate businesses to set up shop in Carrabelle's downtown.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.