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Panel discusses further research found regarding sewer systems

By Staff | Mar 16, 2016

Further research was shared during last week’s Captiva Community Panel meeting of what the sewer committee has gathered from various meetings with representatives and city staff.

Jay Brown, a committee member, said as a panel, and certainly as a community, you have to have a solid rationale to undertake a project as large as changing septics to a sewer system. He said they are simply playing the part of acting as a responsible community exploring all the facts of what a sewer system entails.

Brown said there are several key factors for Captiva to have a sewer system hook up, which includes a number of factors, such as possibly hooking into the South Seas plant, or the City of Sanibel. He explained some examples might include putting some homes on a sewer system, all the homes on a sewer system, or some on the South Seas plant.

In addition to hooking up a sewer system, cost is also a major factor in their research to determine if a sewer system makes sense for Captiva. He said to answer that, they have to look at how to pay for it.

“If you are going to undertake this there has to be probably a very strong environmental rationale,” Brown said.

He said the final issue of sewer systems is the unintended consequence of increased density overtime on the island. Brown said building high-rises cannot happen as long as they can enforce zoning laws in place on Captiva.

Jack Cunningham, panel member, said he thinks they have to look at Sanibel from the standpoint that they have had sewer systems for many years now and you don’t see any high-rises, or any density issues on that island. He said they have been able to control that and there are powers out here that can prevent that from happening.

“There are a great many considerations with this project,” Brown said.

The sewer committee has done quite a bit of work so far in researching sewer systems and if it could, or should, be a possibility for Captiva.

He said one of those issues they looked into dealt with operation at the South Seas plant, which is owned by FGUA and operated by US Water.

Last April there was a major mishap at the South Seas treatment plant, which involved the City of Sanibel.

David Mintz, also a committee member, said Easter weekend of 2015, April 1, through April 10, Sanibel was asked by the FGUA plant to take 600,000 gallons of raw sewage from South Seas to Sanibel.

“We felt we had an obligation to find out what that was, why it happened, and that it doesn’t happen again,” Mintz said. “We felt we had an obligation to find out if it was a capacity issue.”

As a result, they inquired FGUA and US Water to find out answers. Mintz said FGUA representatives knew about their letter to DEP and they offered to meet with them to discuss concerns, which took place Monday, March 7. Prior to the meeting, 10 questions were jotted down that summarized what they thought was important to ask the representatives.

It was stated that there was a toxicity issue with the flow, or something down at the plant that caused micro organisms that processes waste to die off. Mintz said they had to remove the unprocessed sewage and bring in new micro organisms from another plant to begin the process all over again. The plant went back online on April 11 after the plant died for 10, or 11 days and after $100,000 was spent on hiring trucks to tank away the sewage.

He said they asked what caused the micro organism to die off and FGUA said they did not know and they still do not know. Mintz said they also asked if the issue of transporting the sewage off the premise had anything to do with capacity.

“Unequivantly, absolutely not,” he said was their response to the plant shutting down because of a capacity issue.

The plant, representatives said, can easily handle the flow of the resort after building the new units. He said the plant can handle 63.5 percent capacity even with the new units. In addition, Mintz said it can easily handle more than 300,000 gallons a day.

“I think it is their belief that this plant can serve South Seas for a long time to come,” he said.

Once Mintz concluded his presentation, Brown said he found what FGUA shared was incredible. He said he walked away from the meetings with the belief that the mishap was an anomaly and the plant has a lot of capacity.

Brown also provided insight on three meetings they had over the past month with the mayor and city manager of Sanibel, the vice mayor of Sanibel, as well as a stakeholders meeting with a variety of city staff, DEP, FGUA, among others.

What he took away from the meeting was that the City of Sanibel is enormously concerned about water quality, extraordinarily concerned about density, traffic and the mangroves.

“I don’t think Sanibel city government thought that Captiva shares the same views,” Brown said. “I would say after these meetings that the predisposition has been corrected. I think there is a genuine desire to be working in partnership to manage water quality.”

They also learned some specifics about their sewer plants, one of which is located at Donax Road and the other at Wulfert Road, which is not operating. The entire sewer system is operated through the Donax Road plant and about 99 percent of Sanibel residents are on the sewer plant.

“I think the feeling of Sanibel was if we were to move forward on the sewer system, one very likely scenario would be that the Wulfert system could become a central part of a wastewater system,” Brown said. “I think that if we were to move forward we would probably be looking at some combination of the South Seas and the Wulfert plant.”

Sanibel, he said would be very much in favor of having Lee County do a feasibility analysis and pay for the study to see if a sewer system is needed.

“If we ever got to the point that the panel recommends that we should have a sewer system, what would have to happen is there would have to be a funding source to pay for the sewer system,” Brown said. “You have to identify every property owner who would be part of this capital project and there has to be a vote of every property owner. Fifty-one percent of every property owner voting in favor of this before it can be done. This will never be a situation where some group of concerned citizens on Captiva could ever go and dictate it and say you all are going to have this and everyone has to pay such and such.”

It would go before the residents as a referendum where 51 percent would have to vote in favor of a sewer system.

The next steps the sewer committee have scheduled is a meeting with SCCF and Doug Meurer, the assistant county manager.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.