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Some Florida Cities Might Remove Septic Tanks

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A Gov. DeSantis executive order and concern for waterways has led more cities to look at alternative septic systems, but costs could get passed on to homeowners.

ESTERO, Fla. – Estero is discussing how to transition village neighborhoods currently using septic tanks to central water and sewer.

The Florida Department of Health estimates there are more than 2 million septic systems across the state. Lee County has more than 133,000 septic tanks, according to the department. Some scientists say leaky septic tanks can contribute to disastrous environmental events, such as the algae crisis that plagued Southwest Florida waters last year.

In Estero, many properties with septic systems are located along the Estero River, according to the village. The concern about water quality in the river, designated a special waterway by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, has caused the village to examine taking action on septic tanks.

“We’ve got to step up to the plate and make this happen, like other counties are doing,” said Estero Mayor Bill Ribble.

The village approved a $60,000 agreement with Fort Myers-based Banks Engineering at a public meeting Wednesday for design and research on expanding water and sewer lines into areas of the village without those utilities. It is the start of a process that could lead to complete removal of septic systems in Estero, said Village Manager Steve Sarkozy.

“The village council is interested in moving this forward to seek elimination ultimately of these types of facilities that can only serve to contaminate some of our groundwater and the Estero River,” Sarkozy said at the meeting.

The agreement with Banks Engineering would study what infrastructure is needed to install the utilities and what the construction costs could be.

The planning work does not mean Estero will establish assessments to fund the transition of septic to water and sewer, said David Willems, the village’s public works director.

“We don’t want to pursue assessments when we don’t understand what the costs are,” Willems said.

The engineering work will occur simultaneously with another village study tied to the Estero River. Earlier this summer, the Estero council approved an FGCU research study that will monitor types of bacteria in the Estero River and where they come from. The study plans to test for human waste, nitrogen compounds, E. coli and other types of bacteria.

The village is in the process of considering an assessment policy that would allow property owners to petition the village for services, such as extending sewer lines into neighborhoods. Projects would be funded through assessments added to property taxes, according to the draft policy.

Eliminating septic tanks because of water quality concerns has been on the agendas for governments and lawmakers throughout the state.

The Naples City Council chose to move homes in certain neighborhoods to city sewer. The cost to connect 900 properties to the sewer system was estimated at $14 million in January.

Also this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis included phasing out septic tanks in an executive order that included other state water quality policies.

© 2019 Journal Media Group, Brittany Carloni

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