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Captiva panel debate sewer over septic

By Staff | Jun 17, 2015

Conversations continued at the Captiva Community Panel last week regarding how viable it would be to change from septic systems to a sewer system on Captiva.

Captiva Community Panel members Dave Jensen and Jay Brown, among others, began discussions as part of a committee, which led to inviting Lee County Assistant County Manager Doug Meurer to the June meeting.

“Doug’s visit in June was a starting point to begin the process of fact finding, so a well informed discussion of the pros and cons of a sewer system can be held,” Ken Gooderham, Captiva Community Panel administrator, said.

In order for a change from septic to sewer to occur, Meurer said, a technical engineering consultant would have to take a look at what kind of system would work best for Captiva. From there, he said a plan would be formulated on how to move forward with the project.

“From start of design to completion of a project, it would be at least five years,” Meurer said if Captiva were to move forward with a sewer system.

Although specifics have not been explored yet, Captiva has the option of hooking into a pipe that runs into the City of Sanibel’s sewer lines.

Meurer told the panel about two possibilities that could be used for Captiva, a gravity sewer line or a vacuum system.

The gravity sewer line takes waste flow out of a home into a pipe on the street. The water runs downhill in a pipe that typically reaches a certain depth before entering a pump station to be taken to a different height.

The vacuum system, which Meurer said is more suited for an island, is a smaller pipe line that draws water through with a vacuum.

Some figures $10,000 to $15,000 were shared as examples of how much it might cost to implement the change in utilities for each homeowner and business owner.

“Every community is going to be unique,” Meurer said. “It depends on equipment and distance the pipes have gone to determine the cost. Whatever the cost of the project, single family units would pay the same assessment. Businesses would be assessed on the amount of flow they generate.”

There was also information shared regarding three different mechanisms Captiva may be able to use to implement a sewer system.

Meurer said the community can self impose an assessment necessary to build the infrastructure for a sewer system through the Municipal Services Business Unit.

“When established, there is a petition that goes out,” he said. “Fifty percent, plus one homeowner, has to approve the establishment of that business unit.”

Another option would include an existing utility company taking over Captiva for their service area. Meurer said he is looking into this option to see if it would require more than approval from the board.

The third option would fall under Captiva establishing their own utility system that they would manage. This option is also being further researched.

Meurer shared an example regarding when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection could step in and issue a consent order to mandate a change. He said the Keys were having some water quality issues that were determined to be a concern about health and the well-being of residences, so a consent order was issued.

Discussions were held during the meeting that there are no requirements for septic tanks to be checked on a regular schedule for homeowners. Businesses on the other hand, are required to have their septic tanks checked.

Gooderham said the panel had looked at ways to regulate septic systems on the island, or at least ensure they were being maintained properly.

“However, since septic systems come under the purview of the state Department of Health, the county is reluctant, or even unable, to support adoption of any meaningful regulations to spur and document maintenance efforts in county rules,” he said.

Captiva began discussions about a sanitary sewer system in the 1900s and the Captiva Community Panel had its first conversation in 2004 due to plans of expanding the City of Sanibel’s treatment capacity by adding the Wulfert plant, Gooderham said.

In 2007, further discussion was had after a small treatment plant on the north end of Sanibel began having problems, which resulted in closures of beaches on both islands.

“At the same time Captivans were debating whether to pursue underground utilities, electrical lines, so the option of a larger project that would include sewer lines was discussed,” Gooderham said.

With the closure of the beaches, the panel decided to look further into water quality issues on the island. A two-year analysis was conducted by SCCF of island water quality for near shore and groundwater.

Gooderham said the study found that the near shore pollutants spike was tied more to rainfall than island population. He said the study also revealed that septic systems still accounted for the highest contribution of nitrogen to the overall load.

“Slowing runoff from the island could offer great possibilities to improve near shore water quality, but the nitrogen introduced into the ecosystem from septic systems, even those functioning properly, was a pollution contributor,” Gooderham said.

In both instances, public support was not sufficient, he said, which resulted in the issue not moving forward.

“As part of a community survey done in 2013 by the panel to help set priorities and issues to be pursued, sanitary sewers again popped up as an item of interest in an open-ended array of choices,” Gooderham said. “The interest was reinforced in community workshops held in 2014 as part of the ongoing Captiva Plan update.”

The language of the plan began taking shape, which triggered the panel to begin setting priorities for its next efforts that were addressed in spring 2015. Gooderham said short, medium and long-range priorities were established at the May 2015 meeting.