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Sewers further discussed by Captiva Community Panel

By Staff | May 18, 2016

Additional meetings held by the sewer committee were discussed in length during the Captiva Community Panel last week, resulting in more direction as they gather information.

Jay Brown, a member of the sewer committee, said three meetings had been conducted since the last Captiva Community Panel meeting in April.

The first meeting was with Kelly Hill, an engineer that designs septic systems. Brown said he thought the meeting was interesting because he spent a considerable amount of time explaining the different types of septic systems that are available.

Brown said there are two broad types conventional and performance based septic systems.

“The conventional is a big tank in the ground that must maintain its structural integrity,” he said, adding that stuff goes into the tank and the hard solid material goes to the bottom and decomposes over time.

When the liquid waste reaches the top it goes into a drain field. Brown said you then rely on the leach fields and the soils to clean the material.

The performance based system is where material goes into the tank and goes through a treatment process before it exits the tank into a leach field. Brown said the material does not rely on the soil to be treated.

“Performance based systems could be quite a bit smaller than the conventional based systems. Conventional systems require a pretty large tank and a large drain field. Performance based systems are a smaller tank and drain field, but they require a lot of monitoring and have to be registered with DEP and have to be inspected at least twice each year,” Brown said.

He said Hill also explained that the water table on Captiva can be six inches below the grade. Brown said they are operating in an environment where there is not a lot of room for error in the systems because if they are not performing correctly it can go right into the water table.

“When I finished up with the Kelly Hill meeting I kind of thought this is not the optimal kind of environment to have a septic system because we have relatively high density where septics would be typically used. You have this high water table and little room for error,” Brown said.

David Mintz, also a sewer committee member, said both of the systems have some potential fatal flaws. First, they are very susceptible to over use, causing them to malfunction. He said if someone has a rental and have more people than what the system is designed for, the system no longer works properly.

When individuals start to smell the septics, Mintz said it is because the performance based system is receiving too much water.

“When you have a lot of people taking showers it won’t function properly,” he said.

The other thing that was surprising Mintz said stemmed around shutting down, or not using, a system for a month to three months causing the bacteria to die. Once the bacteria dies, it can take up to a month to get the system running again.

“These performance based systems, if they are maintained properly, run beautifully and they have a potential to see much better treated water for the environment,” he said. “On the other hand, in our environment, where we do have potential over usage and seasonality they can malfunction very quickly.”

The committee also had a meeting with Bob Himschoot, of Crews Environmental. Brown said Himschoot strongly believes septic systems can be successful in an environment like Captiva, but it depends on what kind of system, how well it is maintained and inspected.

“He is saying that individual septic systems if properly designed and are faithfully watched, can be successful on our island,” Brown said.

He said when there are big peaks and valleys it makes it difficult on the performance based septic systems. Brown went on to say that Himschoot expressed how completely air tight the conventional system needs to be.

Brown also touched upon the overall state of the septic systems on Captiva. Everything installed after 1982 includes a record and permit of septic systems on the island.

Mintz said a septic regime is needed for an onsite maintenance program, so the septic tanks can be monitored.

Brown said although they are gathering information for what could be a long term study, the meetings with Hill and Himschoot he believes that Captiva could have wastewater treatment strategy based on septic systems.

“Having gone through these meetings, it’s doable, but may not be the best way. If you could somehow get people to use properly designed systems, maintain properly and have some kind of inspection regulation regime, that kind of strategy could be possibly a successful strategy,” Brown said of septic systems.

The final meeting with David Depew was discussed, which revolved around density. Brown said it is his feeling that individuals want Captiva to remain the same.

“To get a better idea of what we might do to protect our existing density, we had a meeting with David Depew who was the key planner for the South Seas project,” he said. “I thought it was an interesting discussion. Part of what came out to me is what do people mean when they say density. People have different views of what density means. We need to be sure about how we are defining density. My own view is you define density by can you maintain your current zoning and prevent someone from rezoning their property?”

Bob Walter, a Captiva Community Panel member, brought up the property owned by Rauschenberg behind Chadwick. He said there are close to 40 plotted lots, so if the property was ever sold to someone with deep pockets, they have every right to build 40 homes out there.

“How do we protect our plan and our code to the best degree possible, so that someone cannot rezone and now they can build,” Mintz said. “These are the questions that we want to give to a planner and a land use attorney, so it can protect us in the best way possible.”

He said Depew recommended a planner to be hired to look at the plan and then hire an attorney to review the document.

Peter Koury, a Captiva Community Panel member, made the suggestion of another option – doing what Estero and Sanibel did – incorporate and use the MSDU money by having their own zoning and own people to enforce it. He said it’s a very straight forward thing to do and it gives them control.

Brown said that density is an issue beyond a sewer project. He said they should do whatever they can to work on density regardless of a sewer project.

“I have trouble envisioning with the tremendous variabilities and lows and whatever our wastewater system is, septics or sewers, how you will design a sewer system that just barely meets the peek needs we have now,” he said.

The sewer committee made a recommendation to figure out how to work with a planner and an attorney to protect the current zoning. Brown said they should protect their zoning and projects that would increase density by looking at their plan and see what else they can put in it to make increased density impossible.

Brown said over the summer Planner Max Forgey will work under his current retainer for recommendations he would make to the plan that would make it as strong as possible. In the fall specific next steps will be discussed by the panel.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.