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Opinion
Ormond Beach Observer Thursday, Jun. 13, 2019 3 months ago

Why help Ormond-by-the-Sea's septic-to-sewer conversion? Why now?

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Now is the time to move forward on this project.
by: Guest Writer

By Dwight Selby

City Commission

You may be wondering why the city of Ormond Beach is poking its nose into the sewage treatment methods of the residents of Ormond-by-the-Sea? After all, Ormond-by-the-Sea is governed by Volusia County; it’s an unincorporated area outside the city limits of Ormond Beach.

Ormond-by-the-Sea is, of course, contiguous to Ormond Beach – Ormond’s most northern street on the peninsula is Sandcastle Drive, and Plaza Drive is the southernmost street in Ormond-by-the-Sea. Well it’s a great question and deserves a thoughtful response, which actually has two parts. First, why should I get rid of my septic tank and hook up to sewer? And second, why is Ormond Beach pushing this?

Why should I get rid of my septic tank?

If you live in Ormond-by-the-Sea and have a septic tank, you need to seriously consider hooking up to city sewer when it becomes available for the sake of environment.

I’m not going to try to guilt you into doing this. I want you to come to your own conclusion based on the facts. The place to start is the Volusia County Health Department report on the status of sewage disposal and collection in Volusia County dated November 2013. The Health Department rated every area in the county where septic tanks are prevalent based on six characteristics (soil permeability, proximity to water body, average age of systems, water table, potable water source, and density) and determined that three of the five worst areas in the entire county for septic tanks are in Ormond-by-the-Sea. The North Peninsula barrier island is designated “Not Suited for Septic.” 

If these 4,000 homes were not on city water, Ormond-by-the-Sea would be the absolute worst area in the county, bar none, for septic.

So what makes septic so bad? Well, even a properly working septic system does not remove the nutrients from the waste water that leaches into the soil; the nitrogen and phosphorous end up in the aquifer and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Atlantic Avenue is about 15 feet above sea level, and John Anderson is about 5 feet above sea level. All the groundwater flows from the ocean to the river carrying along the nutrients. And it’s the nutrients that destroy the natural water quality and can cause algae blooms to grow.

The Clean Water Act declared the Halifax River near the Tomoka Basin an impaired water body due to high nutrients and algae blooms. The soil is extremely porous on the peninsula, so a homeowner may not even be aware that their system is not working properly because their toilets flush and their shower drains without backing up but underground it may be leaking without any treatment.

Why is Ormond Beach pushing this?

The reason is simple: Ormond-by-the-Sea is in Ormond Beach’s utility (water and sewer) service area. Every single Ormond-by-the-Sea resident buys his or her potable (drinking) water from the city of Ormond Beach.

This has been the case for decades. I know because Sheryl and I lived in a single-family house in Ormond-by-the-Sea when we first moved to the area in 1983 and back then we paid a water bill to Ormond Beach. This had been the case for years prior to our arrival.

Ormond Beach is logically the designated utility provider for Ormond-by-the-Sea for a couple of reasons. There are really only three possible providers of sewer service: i) A private company, ii) Volusia County, or iii) Ormond Beach.

There is a private company that serves about 650 homes at the far north end of Ormond-by-the-Sea with package plants. It is unlikely that this company or any other private company would invest the millions of dollars necessary to build a facility to treat the sewage for a relatively small number of homes. That is, of course, assuming they could find a tract of land at a reasonable price sufficiently large enough to construct their sewage treatment plant without raising the ire of the neighbors, who would now be living next to such a facility.

Volusia County is not an option. They are not interested in being the sewer provider for this area for the same reasons expressed above. So that leaves the city of Ormond Beach which is the most obvious and best alternative.

First, Ormond-by-the-Sea is in its utility service area. Second, Ormond Beach has capacity in its existing wastewater treatment plant to service all of Ormond-by-the-Sea and then some, so the city will not need to spend millions of dollars to expand its plant. Finally, as my friend Peggy Farmer says, “The water knows no boundaries. It is everyone’s water."

Now is the time to move forward on this project. There’s citizen support as evidenced by the OB Life No. 1 environmental concern was water quality and septic. On the state level, Gov Ron DeSantis’s push for $600 million per year for the next four years for water quality projects and the federal government is considering a major infrastructure bill. If we delay this project, the competition from other cities and counties will heat up over time and make our ability to secure partner funds increasingly difficult.

What’s in it for me?

As I see it, there are two big financial reasons to consider sewer over septic.

First, you gain the utility of all of your land. Right now you can’t build anything where your drain field is located. So if it’s in your backyard, you can’t add a swimming pool or expand your home. If it’s in your front yard, you can’t install a circular driveway.

The other big benefit involves the value of your home. There are many buyers who will not even consider buying a home with a septic tank. If you connect to sewer, you expand your pool of buyers which raises the market value of your home.

There is one other benefit: the peace of mind knowing you’re doing your part to clean up our water for the benefit of future generations — our kids and grandkids.

What’s next?

The Ormond Beach City Commission must adopt the annual budget including the $1.1 million allocation for the design and permitting of Phase 1. This will be followed by a request for proposals to select the professional engineering firm that will create the construction plans and secure necessary permits. A project is considered “shovel ready” when it is designed and permitted.

Once that’s completed, the city can bid the construction to determine how much it will actually cost to construct. Simultaneously, we will be securing commitments from financial partners like St. Johns River Water Management District, Volusia County, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Community Development Block Grants, the state revolving fund, the federal government and any other sources that will contribute. All this is with the goal of raising as much support as possible so as to minimize the expense to homeowners.

Recognizing that many people are not in a position to absorb a large one-time expense, we are researching the means to make available low-interest loans.

Will I be required to annex into Ormond Beach?

Absolutely not. This is about water quality – not annexation. No one will be required to annex into the city.

For years politicians have been talking about the septic problem on the North Peninsula. And for years all that has been accomplished is talk. My hat is off to Mayor Bill Partington and the entire City Commission for taking this bold step. Finally action will replace talk and results will follow.

I’m confident that when you analyze all the facts, you will agree that abandoning septic and connecting to sewer is the right thing to do and is in your long-term best interest.

Dwight Selby represents Zone 1 on the Ormond Beach City Commission. Email him at [email protected] or call 386-295-8729.

 

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