With little debate, commissioners signed the death warrant for the next 1,725 septic systems in mid-county.
Charlotte County Utilities Director Craig Rudy Tuesday ran through the $30 million, multi-year plan to remove septic systems on the west side of U.S. 41 starting around Cochran Boulevard around Lakeview Boulevard. The project would head south to Countryman Waterway into Alligator Bay.
Construction on the northern half of the project ending around Midway Boulevard could begin around 2024, Rudy said. The southern half of the project would be constructed much later.
Each project takes years of negotiations with property owners including consolidation of lots. County staff sometimes struggle to locate property owners.
This is the fourth septic-to-sewer project the county has undertaken, including East/West Spring Lake, El Jobean and Ackerman. A septic to sewer master plan in 2017 identified 4,769 systems as high priorty for removal due to their age and proximity to water. The goal was to complete removal in 15 years.
A 2019 report discovered, however, that hundreds of new septic systems are going in every year in Charlotte County, because so much of the county is missing sewers. The report predicted the county would continue to rely on septic systems to handle new growth.
In addition to converting septic systems, the county is investing millions of dollars in future expansion of the water and sewer system to accommodate substantial population growth already underway. The new systems would also prevent frequent breaks and overflows.
Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch later told the Sun he considers these septic elimination projects his legacy to the county. That’s because removing septic systems has been named a major contributor to improved water quality in Charlotte Harbor and in all the county’s waterways.
Septic system elimination projects have also generated hostility, at times overwhelming, from some residents. Residents in the previous projects so far faced paying $11,500 bills or higher over 20 years. Then they face paying costly water and sewer bills for the first time.
Other residents with septic systems have accepted the shift as necessary given the cost of replacing failing systems. Realtors have also said sewers increase home values.
The 2018 year of algae, both red and blue green, made Florida national news. Both are associated with too much nitrogen in the water, which septic systems contribute.
When these projects were first proposed years ago, Deutsch said, negative backlash resulted in earlier commission boards acquiescing to public demand, thus kicking the can down the road to his board.
The board’s head nod means the utilities department can start planning the project and preparing to solicit bids for design.
About 447 of the lots are still empty, Rudy said. Past experience shows about 65% of empty lot owners defer paying connection fees, which means they won’t get any special deals.
So far, the county has kept the connection cost down with federal grants. Commissioners have approved sewer system expansion projects to be paid with sales tax dollars. Those projects would not help the homeowners who have pay new connection fees, but they would help the utility rate payers.