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Panel voted on next steps for sewer system information gathering

By Staff | Apr 20, 2016

The Captiva Community Panel approved the sewer committee to move forward with its fact finding in six different areas last week after three additional informational meetings were held with various different groups.

Those areas included supporting development of a proposal conducted by Lee County for a wastewater management alternative study; conduct meetings with Crews Environmental and Kelly Hill to determine the latest and best septic technology available for conditions found on Captiva; include issues of storm water runoff management within the scope of the sewer committees efforts; consult land use legal experts on how to protect itself from unwanted density increases; working with SCCF to develop an authoritative and concise summary of the 2011 water quality study and conduct briefing meetings of its work with Mayor Kevin Ruane, SCCF, CCA and other Captiva constituencies.

Jay Brown, a member of the sewer committee, read a summary of the proposal that Lee County Assistant County Manager Doug Meurer and Public Utilities Director Pam Keyes created.

“With the support of Assistant County Manager Doug Meurer, Public Utilities Director Pam Keyes will develop a scope and estimated cost for a wastewater management alternatives study of Captiva Island, using county staff from the public utilities, community development, and natural resources departments, as well as private sector resources. The goal is to amass existing data, identify missing information, reach out to industry and scientific resources, and develop a study of options and costs for wastewater treatment on Captiva Island working with a 30-40 year planning horizon. After an initial draft is developed, input will be solicited from the Captiva community (via the Community Panel) and the City of Sanibel as appropriate to refine the study’s scope before it is presented to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners for possible funding.”

Panel member Peter Koury said the study is going to end of being generic and will not be based on the water quality on Captiva.

Brown said this is a possible next step with Lee County that he wanted to bring forth to the panel before any steps were taken. He asked if they should move forward and have them draft the study, which was approved by the panel.

David Mintz, also a sewer committee member, said they thought it was important to start consulting land use legal experts because Captiva residents do not want to build an infrastructure that will potentially create increased density. He said they initially want to see how sturdy and stable and effective their Captiva Plan codes are at this point.

“We want to set up at least two meetings with planners, or land use attorneys to make sure we have a full understanding of how secure our plan is if we decide to go the sewer route,” Mintz said. “Nothing is black and white, everything is gray. We create hurdles and we need protections. We want to know what those hurdles and protections are.”

Brown also discussed the SCCF portion of their next steps. He said during the effort of Mintz and Mike Mullins working on a concise summary, further SCCF efforts on behalf of the panel will be put on hold pending the panels review of the Lee County proposed wastewater management alternatives study.

Before the panel voted, Brown shared additional information that was gathered from three meetings that were scheduled between the March and April Captiva Community Panel meeting in regards to sewer systems.

The first meeting was with SCCF. The sewer committee had the opportunity to discuss the water quality study in greater detail.

Brown shared his impressions from the study, as well as what he thought were the principal findings of that study with the panel.

Brown said when comparing near shore waters with the areas near the FGUA plant to septics there is not a difference in bacteria levels in the water. When comparing the same areas, there is a significant difference in nitrogen levels.

“It appears that bacteria comes out from a septic system and somehow filters through our top soil. It does not reach estuaries and near shore waters in a greater degree if you have a septic system verses if you have central sewer,” he said. “However there is a very significant difference in nitrogen and of course nitrogen promotes growth of things.”

Nitrogen is much higher in the septic areas, verses the sewer areas. Brown said according to the study, septic systems are producing approximately twice the nitrogen in the surrounding waters as central sewer.

“Then while there was no difference in bacteria loads between the areas of service by septic and those serviced by central sewer, there is a very big change in bacteria loads depending on rainfall amounts and storm water runoff,” he said, adding that when the rain and top soil runs into the bay it increases bacteria loads in the surrounding waters.

The conclusions, Brown said, was that septics creates elevated nitrogen levels and rainfall creates elevated bacteria levels.

Another key finding, he said stemmed from the sewer committee asking SCCF about storm water runoff creating elevated bacteria levels. They asked if they should focus more on controlling storm water runoff than on septic verses sewer issues.

“Their advice was we should be focused more on septic that storm water, which surprised me,” Brown said. “Their reasoning was they feel nitrogen is a serious issue in the waterway and secondly they felt you can be a lot more successful changing over septic systems to central sewers than trying to control storm water runoff. You have compliance issues and getting people to adopt best practices. They are not saying we shouldn’t focus on storm water runoff, but we will get a lot more mileage putting the principal focus on the septic issue.”

SCCF, he said is willing to partner with the Captiva Community Panel to provide further environmental impact support in another evaluation of septic verses sewer.

The second meeting was a tour of the South Seas wastewater plant on March 24. Brown said it is clear to the committee that the major event that happened last spring was due to a toxic item being introduced into the wastewater treatment plant that killed the bugs that process the waste in the plant. Although FGUA does not know what happened, they felt it was a one time event.

Brown said the capacity of the South Seas wastewater plant, especially with the addition of the injection wells, is more than adequate to handle the proposed expansion of units at South Seas. He said the plant cannot expand vertically, but by its footprint, which raises some concerns regarding permits because it is surrounded by mangroves.

The final meeting was with Meurer and Keyes.

Brown said it was apparent that they were oriented more towards modern day and age in regards to conditions on Captiva concerning a central sewer system, which they said would make a lot of sense.

“We did not coach them on that because we do not have a opinion, we are simply fact finding,” he said.

The sewer committee also explained their concerns about the unintended consequences of density. The next steps were also discussed and how Lee County could help, which resulted in Meurer stating he believes they could do a feasibility study on what are the alternatives of a longterm wastewater plan for Captiva.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.