It’s been just shy of a decade-and-a-half since The St Joe Company secured approval from county commissioners, after a packed meeting in the main courtroom of the courthouse, to begin work on its proposed SummerCamp development on the easternmost St. Teresa corner of the county’s coast.
That go-ahead came not long before the real estate bubble burst, and so far, only about one-quarter of the total capacity of 499 lots have been sold on the 750 acres, about half of which is protected forest land.
A total of 219 lots have been platted, and 21 houses so far have been built. The restaurant there has been closed for several months.
Earliest this year, the company began talks with Carrabelle to have the city take over water and sewer service for what is now provided by the company-owned St. James Island Utility Co., set up in Jan. 2004.
“We don’t have any more specifics at this time. We are currently exploring this opportunity with the city of Carrabelle, and they are working on a cost analysis to understand the feasibility of this potential expansion of its utility services,” said Mike Kerrigan, St. Joe’s director of marketing. “We believe this is one way in which the city of Carrabelle can expand its service area for utilities”
At the March 7 city commission meeting, Inovia Consulting Group presented a two-page proposal for engineering services for a feasibility study, which detailed the deliverables and hourly rate with an estimated fee of $15,000. Commissioners directed City Administrator Courtney Millender to follow up with John Curtis, SummerCamp’s recently hired community manager, to learn whether St. Joe is willing to pay the cost of the feasibility study.
The city first agreed to move slowly on the issue after Mayor Brenda La Paz outlined at the Feb. 7 meeting her opening discussions with Curtis. She said City Engineer Russell Large, who is with Inovia, had been out to look over the situation.
“Do we start their plant up and operate it, or pump it back to Carrabelle? What would be the costs?” Large told commissioners.
The mayor, noting tap fees would be where the city would begin recouping its investment, said the city would be looking at a long-term plan. “For Carrabelle to be a regional supplier, that is the intention, within our (commissioners’) tenure here we may not see it pay for itself,” said La Paz.
City Commissioner Tony Millender moderated his enthusiasm. “I just question if we’re at that stage yet,” he said. “It’s well worth investigating but I’m not too excited about spending city of Carrabelle taxpayer money on a facility out there that’s not going to be cost-effective. I have questions before we go deeper.”
City Attorney Dan Hartman said talks are preliminary. “Thus far St. Joe hasn’t made anything other than just a contact,” he said. “St. Joe wants to unload it because it doesn’t make sense for them financially.
“A third path,” he said “would be to have St. Joe as a customer of the city. Until they get to a certain size it’s hard to see how it would make sense. The big expense to them is running those plants. We both have the same problem; we have more capacity than we’re able to use.
“We would provide them bulk water and sewer, and then when it gets to a certain size we can take it on,” Hartman said. “Adding 20 users that far out at the end of a line is a tough one.”
Charlie Painter, the city’s head of water and sewer, told commissioners “St. Joe came to us and said they want to dissolve their utility. That’s where this started out.
“There will be pipe to be connected on their end, they still have work to do as well,” he said.
Painter said Curtis talked of St. Joe putting an RV park in on the north side of U.S. 98. Conversations this week with St. Joe officials clarified that at most, this was being contemplated as an interim measure, to help with marketing permanent lots for homes.
“Currently we have no plans for RV sites north of Highway 98,” said Kerrigan.
He also said “no plans for a boat ramp at SummerCamp Beach have been finalized,” although that amenity has long been considered likely for a portion of the development’s four-mile stretch of beach, and with it a possible fueling station and convenience store.
Kerrigan sounded an upbeat note regarding future growth for the development. “Builder and homebuyer interest in SummerCamp Beach is high,” he said. “A local builder has just agreed to build six new homes that will begin construction soon. We continue to seek additional builder relationships for the future growth of SummerCamp Beach.”
He also said the company is in search for a tenant to succeed The Seineyard at SummerCamp, which closed down permanently in mid-2018.
“We are currently seeking a new tenant to bring a dining concept to this space at SummerCamp Beach,” said Kerrigan.