Two Volusia County council members agreed: there should be a new study.
Should there be another study on the impact of north peninsula septic tanks on the Halifax River?
Some Ormond-by-the-Sea residents think so. So do at least two Volusia County Council members.
Six people spoke at the beginning of the council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 15, insisting for a new study to support — or debunk — the reasons for a conversion to Ormond Beach sewer. North peninsula homeowners held a meeting at the Ormond Beach Regional Public Library on Sunday, and resident Roger Nutt told the council that over 100 people attended. The Ormond By The Sea Association has started a petition for a study, and Nutt said 90 people have already signed it. An online version of the petition at Change.org had been signed by 56 as of Tuesday afternoon, and residents are canvassing for more signatures in their neighborhoods.
The petition states that there is "no evidence that the septic systems in Ormond-by-the-Sea are contributing any pollution to [the Halifax River and the adjacent Tomoka Basin], and all the available evidence indicates that they are not." It also requests that the study should be accepted, observed and approved by technical representatives of the homeowners, and, that all work regarding the conversion be suspended until a study proves septic systems are polluting the river.
"With no soil testing or proper scientific investigation to determine the source of nutrient pollution in the Halifax, there can be no justification in forcing this conversion upon us for environmental reasons," resident Rashida Hakeem said.
She asked why Volusia County isn't stepping in to identify and fix problems in the north peninsula, "if they exist."
Jeff Brower, who is running for Volusia County Council Chair in 2020, said the 2013 Florida Department of Health study Ormond Beach is basing the conversion on was a "list of five hypotheses." He's recently tested some soil samples from the drain fields in north peninsula homes, and the samples (tested at an out-of-state lab) revealed little nitrogen in the soil.
However, Brower said the county shouldn't accept his testing. It should ask the state to test it themselves.
“You have an opportunity to pinpoint where the problem is," Brower said.
The city of Ormond Beach isn't currently seeking to solicit a new study. The 2013 FDOH study outlines that the north peninsula isn't suited for septic, and the city is in the bidding stage for the design and permitting of the first phase of the septic-to-sewer based on that finding.
County Councilman Ben Johnson said the septic-to-sewer conversion is an emotional issue. The council keeps hearing about the study, and he said the council needs to look at that before voicing any support for the project.
"It's not like it's 50-50 or even 30-70," Johnson said. "I think we need to take a look at it and get some kind of scientific opinion on it before we go any further on it."
County Council Chair Ed Kelley told Johnson that it wasn't "their call," as Ormond Beach is doing the conversion and spending the money.
“We’re not in play on this," Kelley said, adding that would change if the city approached the county for a special assessment district.
Councilman Fred Lowry also voiced support for a study to validate the conversion. As it is right now, he's hesitant to help with grant assistance or other forms of support. When Kelley asked if he needed a study to prove that septic tanks produce nitrogen, Lowry said no. That's common knowledge.
"It's just there's been no study to show that those particular ones are affecting the river as indicated by certain people," Lowry said.