The City of Bonifay is located 53 miles directly north of the City of Panama City Beach. Many visitors to the beach pass through the small town on the way for a long-awaited vacation or holiday. Bonifay is also a designated evacuation route out of harm’s way in the event of a major weather disturbance. Due to the City’s location, the community streets and roadways are essential not just to the locals but for all who travel along them. It is important to keep these roadways and streets passable and safe at all times.
As with many communities in the Northwest Florida Panhandle, stormwater drainage is a major concern. During significant rainfall, many city streets become flooded, and businesses and homes suffer serious water damage to their property. In 2013, Bonifay saw a record annual rainfall of 97.58 inches. During Hurricane Sally, Bonifay saw rainfall of 13.1 inches in a 24-hour period. Residents saw flooding in homes, and many city streets were completely underwater. With city streets impassable, many businesses received significant damage, including city buildings. The post office had to be relocated, and the City Police and Fire-Rescue Departments sustained major damage.
For many years, the City Council members searched for answers to help with the flooding. They turned their attention to the main drainage trunk running through the City’s center, the Camp Branch drainage ditch. In July 2018, the City was awarded $4.5 million in federal grant funds administered by the Florida Division of Emergency Management to improve the Camp Branch tributary. The improvements included removing and replacing existing undersized culverts, placing a box culvert that was 12 feet by 6 feet under Highway 79 and widening and clearing the channel. Completed in February 2021, this project was designed to withstand a 100-year storm event.
The Camp Branch project will significantly impact the speed and volume of stormwater that will move more swiftly to an existing wetland. It is only the first step in the City’s plan to address the flooding caused by stormwater, and Bonifay continues its efforts.
In February 2020, with the use of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) Rural Infrastructure Funds, an engineering firm was engaged to study the problem areas throughout the City. The purpose was to identify options for limiting or alleviating downtown flooding issues. The engineering firm presented the Stormwater Drainage Study to the City Council in April 2021. It included a project priority list totaling $6.7 million. The study pinpointed the areas of concern and outlined 13 projects recommended to improve the drainage within the City limits. These improvement projects include retention ponds, channel cleanings and reshaping, new trunk lines and culvert replacement.
The adoption of this study shows the City’s commitment to protecting its visitors, citizens and businesses and will take years to complete. However, improvements will be evident after each project. Now that Bonifay has an action plan with set priorities, it is time to take the next step.
On behalf of Bonifay, the engineering firm successfully applied for $242,250 from the DEO Rural Infrastructure Fund to develop and plan for a downtown central stormwater facility. The current drainage system is very limited in its usefulness due to the undersized pipes, deteriorating pipes and lack of a cohesive design.
Another engineering firm has also partnered with the City to assist in determining ways to mitigate flooding stormwaters by applying for a state appropriation of $680,000 for surveying, designing and constructing an improved drainage system on Etheridge Street. This drainage system, which has been in place for many years, collects stormwater from Highway 79, Iowa Street and Tracy Street. Over time the pipes have aged and became ineffective in moving the water; therefore, the buildings on the east and west sides of the street are negatively impacted. Portions of the drainage trunk have collapsed during heavy rains, making this a priority due to the possibility of accidents.
It is a challenge to mitigate flooding waters; however, Bonifay is determined to improve the City for its citizens, visitors and business owners in the community. The plan will take many years to complete, but improvement will be seen along the way as each planned project on the priority list is completed. Bonifay residents have a council that looks to the future and works to ensure the safety of the current community members and future generations, as well as create a community that is attractive to future entrepreneurs.
By Beverly Gilley
Beverly Gilley is the City Clerk for the City of Bonifay. The City of Bonifay, population 2,709, is located in Holmes Count.