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Opinion
Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019 1 month ago

The truth about septic-to-sewer conversion

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Many rumors are circulating, but Ormond Beach does not intend to annex Ormond-by-the-Sea, and no one will be forced to convert to sewer.
by: Guest Writer

By Dwight Selby

Ormond Beach city commissioner

Much has been said recently about the Ormond Beach initiative to improve water quality in the Halifax River and the aquifer by converting Ormond-by-the-Sea septic tanks to central sewer. Unfortunately, much of what’s been said is false. Here’s the truth:

  • No one will be forced to convert to sewer.
  • The cost to the homeowner will not be $15,000-$30,000 as some have alleged. It will be way, way, way less. The goal is to make the project as affordable as possible.
  • Ormond Beach has never released raw sewage into the Halifax River.
  • Septic-to-sewer is not about annexation. It’s about water quality for our kids and grandkids.
  • I will not personally profit from septic-to-sewer.

The Ormond Beach sewer plant has ample capacity to handle OBTS and is an advanced wastewater treatment facility, which removes about 95% of the nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous, which are harmful to the environment.

An overview

There are 4,000 homes in OBTS with septic tanks. All 4,000 are Ormond Beach water customers — they get their drinking water from the city even though they live in the unincorporated county. The soil is very porous, so a homeowner may not realize their septic tank is not working properly as long as their toilet flushes and their shower doesn’t back up.

Standard septic tanks, like those found in OBTS, do not remove the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus from their wastewater.

These nutrients lead to algae blooms, fish kills, oxygen deprivation and toxic conditions in surface water. Some nutrients end up in the aquifer also. The Clean Water Act declared the Halifax River an impaired water body. The Volusia County Health Department rated OBTS “not suited for septic."

No annexation, no forced conversion

On two occasions that I am aware of, the residents of OBTS have voted against annexation. And recently a citizens group has made it clear that they do not wish to be part of Ormond Beach. The Ormond Beach City Commission understands and honors that desire. However, OBTS is in the Ormond Beach utility service area and I would propose, as such, the city has a duty to provide sewer to OBTS. We have ample capacity in our waste water treatment plant to handle all 4,000 homes in OBTS and more. No other entity can address this need. The county is not going to build a sewer plant for such a small number of customers nor will the private sector.

No one will be forced to convert to central sewer. If your septic system is working well, you can stay with it. However, once a sewer line has been installed in front of your home for 12 months, you may be charged an availability fee, and the Health Department will not issue a permit to replace or repair your septic system.

How much will it cost?

Incredibly high numbers have been bantered around — as high as $30,000. This is ridiculous and is causing fear among OBTS residents that their homesteads are in jeopardy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The cost will be very minimal, and a long-term payment plan will be offered. Homeowners who convert will no longer have the expense of maintaining their septic tank or the worry that it will fail someday causing a big, unplanned expenditure. Also, OBTS homeowners will be able to use all of their land. Now they cannot build anything over the tank or the leach field. And should they wish to sell their home, they will have more potential buyers which will likely lead to a higher sales price.

The city is working hard to secure financial support from other governmental entities. This support is critical to making the project affordable to the OBTS residents.

Be patient

This is Phase 1 of 10 phases, and Phase 1 could take two years to complete. The entire project could take a decade. We are starting at the southern end of OBTS (Plaza Drive) and moving north, which makes sense because it’s contiguous to Ormond Beach and the city's existing sewer lines.

Ramp up the science

The Health Department has a study that shows OBTS as “not suited for septic." And a Total Maximum Daily Load study was done a few years ago that estimates thousands of pounds of nutrients from septic tanks are entering our water every year. Some have not only questioned the efficacy of these reports, they maintain that OBTS is the “best place in America for septic tanks.” While I believe it’s self-evident that OBTS is not an appropriate place for septic tanks, many feel otherwise so I’m joining the chorus requesting an additional site specific study to resolve this disagreement.

What's next?

We have met with all members of the Volusia County Council, local state legislators and U.S. Rep. Mike Waltz soliciting their support.

With city staff, we have had two meetings with St. Johns River Water Management District staff to discuss their cost-share program.

We’re researching Community Development Block Grant funds for those who may qualify and are exploring Florida Department of Environmental Protection 319(h) Grants that assist with homeowner expenses.

We have investigated the State Revolving Fund as a possible source of low-interest, long-term, fixed-rate financing for the project.

Ormond Beach will offer a low-interest, payment plan for those residents who cannot or choose not to pay their share in full. The payment plan will likely be over a long period of time, at a low interest rate and will flow with the property so that if the homeowner sells the property before the loan is paid off, the new owner will make the future payments. This will require action by the city commission.

City staff is planning a town hall to inform OBTS residents about the project. The first one will likely be held before the end of the year. Plan to attend, with an open mind, and listen to the panel of subject experts as well as have your questions answered. You will be glad you did.

I will recommend to the City Commission the following actions to address water pollution:

  • Moratorium on septic tanks for new construction in OB.
  • Reduce effluent from the city's wastewater treatment facility by increasing storage capacity.
  • Educate Ormond Beach residents on the county's fertilizer ordinance.
  • Challenge city staff to make suggestions to improve the following: stormwater runoff, sediment from construction, industry and farm land.
  • And finally, I’m asking the City Commission to direct staff to explore an additional scientific study of the factors impacting water quality in the Ormond Beach and OBTS area.

Together we can achieve great things. Let’s make permanent changes that will improve water quality for generations to come.

 

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