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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2019 1 year ago

Ormond Beach to invest in north peninsula's septic to sewer conversion after all

Three commissioners changed their minds after the suggestion to work on part of the city's septic tank issue simultaneously.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

Ormond Beach will be taking the lead in solving Ormond-by-the-Sea's septic problem — and part of it's own. 

The City Commission reached a unanimous consensus to invest $1.1 million for the permitting and design of phase 1 of the north peninsula's septic to sewer conversion of 700 homes, as well as $150,000 to do the same for 65 homes in Oak Avenue, Magnolia Avenue and Bonita Place. It's a compromise months in the making, following back and forth discussion on whether the city should invest taxpayer money in an area outside of its jurisdiction or if it should take care of Ormond Beach residents first. 

At the commission's meeting on April 16, the majority of the commission favored the latter choice, but at its capital improvement program budgeting workshop on Tuesday, June 4, Mayor Bill Partington said he'd had a change of heart.

"Now would be the time to try to make a positive difference in as many ways as we can," Partington said.

The north peninsula was deemed unsuitable for septic systems in a 2013 report by the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County due to the permeability of the soil, the proximity to water bodies, age of the tanks, depth to water table and high density. In addition, 48% of the attendees of the OB Life workshop on the environment and water quality on Aug. 30, 2018, voted accelerating the conversion as the topmost priority. Consequently, four out of five commissioners identified the first phase of the north peninsula conversion as a priority at their strategic planning workshop on Feb. 27.

With the money available in the city's funds, it makes sense to invest it now, Partington said. City Manager Joyce Shanahan cautioned him that in doing this, the city would be using 38% of its wastewater and sewer fund reserves. But, Partington insisted that there are funds available.

Shanahan said that, while the city has $5.7 million available to use, there are monies that are already allocated for specific projects. Finance Director Kelly McGuire proposed that the city don't take all the funds from the wastewater and sewer reserves, but that at least a portion of the design and construction phase be funded by impact fees.

"I just want you all to be aware that you don't want to use all of your reserves because poop happens," Shanahan said.

People want to see government get something done, Partington said. He also wanted the entire commission to be on board with the plan.

"The money is there if we have the guts to tell staff we want this done," Partington said. "Let's do it. Let's not keep dragging our feet."

City Commissioner Dwight Selby, who has been fighting for the city's investment in the north peninsula, said the city is the only one that can help the north peninsula. With Commissioners Susan Persis and Rob Littleton in favor of doing both septic to sewer projects simultaneously, he only had to convince City Commissioner Troy Kent, who had been vocal about taking care of residents first. 

Selby said that though Ormond-by-the-Sea is not in the city's jurisdiction, it is in its utility service area. The north peninsula are all Ormond Beach water customers, and Selby said those residents bring in $300,000 annual profit to the city as a result. If they didn't buy water from the city, that area would be the worst area for septic in the county, Selby said. 

Selby also brought up a story that Kent had told in a prior meeting. Kent had previously talked about his grandfather who used to shrimp in the Halifax River. The water was so clear you could see the grass on the bottom, both recalled.

"If we're ever going to get back to anything even remotely close to that, we gotta get these nutrients — we gotta get the phosphorus and we gotta get the nitrogen out of those waterways," Selby said. "That's what causes the algae blooms, and it's coming in huge part from the septic tanks."

Selby said he didn't think the north peninsula could wait.More discussion ensued on what would happen if a north peninsula resident decided against hooking up to city sewer. City staff said those residents would pay a fine.

In the end, Kent said the mayor would get his unanimous agreement on the topic.

"We're going to make sure that Ormond Beach is permitted and we take care of some of our residents first, and then start cleaning up our Halifax River so that hopefully Wyatt, or heck, hopefully me, will see some grass growing on the bottom of that Halifax River in Ormond Beach again," Kent said.

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