By BETSY CALVERT
If Charlotte County commissioners approve the next step in the Ackerman Avenue neighborhood septic to sewer conversion project, residents can take steps too.
Commissioners will hear the proposal update at today’s board meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. at Murdock Circle. A public hearing on the project is now scheduled for Nov. 12. If approved, residents would start paying the assessment installments in November 2020. Construction on the vacuum station could begin this fall.
If the board approves the next step today, the utilities department can send out applications to residents for unity of title or deferment. Unity of title is for property owners with more than one lot but only one residence, to prevent multiple assessments. Deferment would be for people who own empty lots and do not want to pay for connections, even though the connection cost could be higher in the future.
The county suggested an $11,500 assessment fee per household earlier this year, which won’t cover the full cost of the conversion. That means the county has to find grant money and other sources to cover the full cost.
The $27 million project is expected to affect about 1,337 households in the region near Charlotte Harbor. That’s the anticipated number after owners of multiple lots apply for unity of title or owners of empty lots chose to defer, Utilities Director Craig Rudy told commissioners Thursday at their pre-agenda meeting.
The age of the septic systems in the Ackerman area, and proximity to the harbor, make it one of the county’s high priority sites, according to earlier county reports. Those reports have shown that fecal coliform and nitrogen levels increase in the waterways after major rain events in areas near septic systems, particularly old septic systems.
County reports state the septic systems in the Ackerman area are 26-40 years old.
High nitrogen in the water is considered a cause of algae overgrowth and poor water quality. The project is expected to prevent 32,000 pounds of nitrogen a year from entering the waterways.
This is the county’s third septic-to-sewer project, each of which has drawn out hostile crowds of residents who believe their septic systems are adequate — or that the cost of conversion should be borne by all taxpayers. Some residents have been unpersuaded by presentations on how bad the Florida landscape is for septic systems. The project in El Jobean also cost residents $11,500, payable over 20 years with no interest charged. The first project in Spring Lake cost $10,000 per household.
To reduce the cost, commissioners have instructed the utilities department to use $7.8 million in grant and outside funding to offset construction costs. The county has also used funds from a legal settlement with the BP oil company over the 2010 Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Those funds will be used for the Ackerman project as well, Rudy said.