A new multimillion-dollar utility lab in central St. Johns County could help keep water safe, reliable and clean for residents and help save the county money.
Tony Cubbedge, environmental division manager for the county’s Utility Department, said the new facility includes five analysts, a lab manager and four other analysts. The team is responsible for running all the water and wastewater samples that need to be collected by law to make sure the water is safe.
“This is the building where we ensure that when you turn that faucet on that it’s safe to drink and you can feel comfortable drinking that water,” Cubbedge said.
The $4.6 million facility will serve more than 57,000 utility customers, said Neal Shinkre, interim director for the Utilities Department. The lab consists of several offices, testing rooms, a walk-in cooler for storing samples and a backup generator, but the feature that officials say is most important is its location.
The previous utility lab was in a flood zone on Anastasia Island that was the first to evacuate when evacuation orders were given before storms. This new facility is on Inman Road, off State Road 16 and Interstate 95 in the central part of the county.
Cubbedge said the new building is not in a flood zone and is 30 feet higher in elevation than the last building, which means the facility can stay open to process water samples 24/7 regardless of the weather.
“There’s no evacuation zone here. As a matter of fact, when you drove in you may have seen that generator around the corner. We will be here 24/7/365 through thick and thin of any storm that may come at us,” Cubbedge said.
The operation can help save time when the county has to deal with waterline breaks or wastewater spills. The around-the-clock operation allows analysts to test the contaminated water more quickly so situations like a boil water advisory can be lifted sooner.
The central location also will help save the county money — about $53,000 a year, Cubbedge said. The savings would come from less travel time for staff to drop off samples from other parts of the county, less gas for them to use, and less wear and tear on county vehicles. Staff also will have an extra 1,500 hours a year to focus on essential tasks at wastewater facilities instead of having to drive longer distances to drop off samples.