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Sewer plan gains support

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By Chris Van Ormer

HOMOSASSA — Residents who gathered Tuesday to learn about a potential sewer system they would have to connect to may have wondered if it were needed, but only one person expressed it.

“If we’ve got a septic system that’s working now, why would we want to pay thousands of dollars and have our grounds torn up and have this obnoxious thing (a lift station) sitting out there in our yard and pay sewer bills for the rest of our lives that we don’t have now?” an unnamed Homosassa resident asked at the end of a presentation by Ken Cheek, director of the county’s Water Resources Department.

Cheek used a study of Chassahowitzka septic tanks by the University of South Florida as an example of why a wastewater collection system was needed.

“They put dye down people’s toilets and then they measured how long it took it to get out there in the springs,” Cheek said. “In some cases, dye from some people’s toilets came out in the main springs in three days.”

Some residents argued: “If we’ve got good systems, we don’t have that problem.”

Cheek said it would be a personal decision for residents if they wanted the system or not. 

“But if the sewer runs down your street, it’s basically state law that says you have to connect to it,” Cheek said. 

The purpose of the informational meeting at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park was to advise residents where the project, called Phase V, would be built. The purpose of the project was to get septic tanks away from the Homosassa River, Cheek said. 

Phases I and II served the area around Riverhaven. Phase III was the Halls River Road project. Phase IV installed the line in Chassahowitzka. Cheek produced a map to show the properties already connected to a sewer system. 

Phase V, the next step in connecting properties to sewer, will affect about 106 properties in the Blue Water Forest subdivision and existing residences along Spring Cove Road, Bob Court and a portion of Fishbowl Drive. These areas are directly adjacent to several springs at the head of the Homosassa River that recently were classified as impaired waters because of raised nutrient levels in the water discharging from the springs.

As with earlier phases, the county would need right-of-way access to put in the wastewater line along the private roads within the Phase V area. One property owner’s denial could prevent other properties from connecting to the sewer, Cheek said.

Cheek said grant funding for all five phases amounted to $17 million to date, including $1 million for Phase V received in 2008. That last $1 million was at risk if Phase V did not get started.

“It’s been five years since we got the money,” Cheek said. “Back in November, I got a phone call from DEP. They said, ‘Look Ken, if you don’t spend the money in this year’s Legislative Session, all grants that are older than 2008 are basically going to be rolled back into the state budget and you’re done.’”

The urgency of retaining the grant was another reason for Tuesday’s meeting, Cheek said. The county also is looking for other funding.

“I put in a cooperative funding application to Swiftmud (Southwest Florida Water Management District),” Cheek said. “They are actually reviewing that down in Brooksville next Tuesday. Also, there is potential for funding from the Restore Act.”

The Restore Act of 2010 will provide funds from the companies responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on April 20, 2010, to invest in environmental projects along the Gulf Coast. 

“We don’t know when that money is coming,” Cheek said. “We don’t know the potential for cooperative funding.”

The water management district does not normally fund sewer projects, Cheek said, but he was pitching the building of the sewer system to the district as a water quality improvement project. If residents wanted the county to pursue Phase V, the county would look for more grant funding, but the remainder of the expenses would be covered by individual property owner assessment.

After describing two types of sewer options, low pressure or gravity, Cheek got into costs. In past phases, the low-pressure system was cheaper to install than the gravity system. 

Without counting a possible grant from the water district, the total assessed would be about $1.2 million, Cheek said. 

“Divided by 106 lots, that’s $11,000 for gravity sewer,” Cheek said. “You can pay that over 10 years on your property taxes.”

Low-pressure sewer, however, will bring in an assessment of $556,000 to build, or $5,247 per lot, Cheek said. 

Homeowners would have to bear the additional expenses of connecting to the sewer line. The county wastewater connection fee is $3,380, which may be paid over 10 years under a connection fee lien agreement. The county plumbing permit fee is $100. The plumber’s cost would be between $1,400 and $2,000. A permit from the environmental health department to abandon the septic tank would be $50. To get the septic tank pumped out and demolished would be about $500 to $1,200, depending on the size of the tank.

“Grand total would be between $10,000 and $18,000,” Cheek said. 

The final cost would depend on the type of sewer system used and the amount of grants the county can get. 

Commissioner John “JJ” Kenney said residents could help by asking their state representatives to preserve the funding already in place.

“We’re going to look for additional funds,” Kenney said. “This isn’t going to be the last meeting. This is going to be an ongoing thing until we resolve how we’re going to do it and where we’re going to do it.”

By a show of hands, more than half of those present, between 40 and 50 people, said they favored the project and would like the county to pursue it.