NORTH PORT — Locals should decide North Port’s septic-to-sewer future, not politicians, according to Dan Beilman, a lead opponent to such conversion plans.
The retired North Port resident and others push hard on that message everywhere they can: in public forums, on social media, a small army collecting voter signatures at City Hall, at pop-up sites around town.
The goal is getting the conversion question in front of voters. And while North Port rules state commissioners decide financial questions with ordinances, that final decision is yet to be determined, Beilman insisted.
“It’s all about money,” he said of septic conversions.
A big step forward with a big price tag was the $474,796 city commissioners approved for an engineering and design package last month.
“And it’s big government out of control,” he added. “Everybody’s happy with what they have.”
North Port in May moved ahead on converting homes with septic systems and wells to a city water and sewer system. Streets within the mostly developed South Salford-Blue Ridge district are in a first phase.
The conversion process citywide would take decades, however, and some $1 billion that city officials agree is a dream. The commission’s 3-2 vote to start conversions in May had Vice Mayor Pete Emrich and Commissioner Debbie McDowell in the minority.
“So many unknowns,” Emrich had said. “I believe this can wait.”
But the majority, commissioners Alice White, Barbara Langdon and Mayor Jill Luke, ruled.
“It’s really a matter of when this happens, not if,” Commissioner Langdon had said.
But in anticipation of the move toward expanding the city’s utilities, conversion opponents had been collecting signatures and working social media for months. They had mirrored the West Villagers for Responsible Government in Wellen Park, that political group collecting petitions to de-annex from North Port. Their effort was defeated at City Hall, but had moved to the courts, however. That group also wants voters deciding their fate directly.
Judging by a Saturday petition effort, septic-to-sewer opponents were on a mission. Two places to sign petitions were like a Grand Central Station, cars buzzing in and out as conversion opponents such as Ron Gray answered questions.
“Fix the things that are broke,” he said, “and quit spending our money.”
Those like Becky Vaughan were ready to sign a petition.
“They’re shoving it down our throats,” she said.
And while Commissioner Debbie McDowell applauded “citizen initiatives” such as Beilman’s, she cautioned that: “Where it goes after that, the city attorney has to be involved.”
The hammer for change is Senate Bill 712, the Clean Waterways Act, which includes changes in wastewater treatment, reuse potable water and biosolids application.
It was a platform in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign — addressing water issues, particularly blue-green algae fueled by nitrogen overloads in the water, partly due to septic tanks, and nutrient-fed red tide blooms.
White, voting in the majority with Langdon and Luke, said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency overseeing septic-to-sewer conversions beginning July 1, wouldn’t be “knocking on doors tomorrow.”
But change is coming.
“Water is everything,” White had said. “All (local) waterways lead to the Gulf.”
Aside from the city “imposing itself,” in some cases bankrupting fixed-income seniors, Beilman said, septic conversion will cost jobs in drilling, water softeners and salt and other home filtration systems, testing, septic tank and drainfield installation and service, pumps, plumbers and more.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” he insisted. “And it won’t stop … they’ll keep digging in our pockets.”