County seeks funds for septic-to-sewer conversion

OKEECHOBEE — Septic-to-sewer conversion projects were once again a topic of discussion at the Nov. 8 meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners.

“Last year we went to the legislature seeking money for the Treasure Island septic to sewer conversion,” said John Creasman, Okeechobee Utility Authority (OUA) board chairman. He said the legislature funded just $523,000 for construction, with the stipulation the funds could not be used for design.

“It didn’t make financial sense to move forward with the project when all we could do was scratch the dirt,” he said.

He said OUA has given the southwest section priority this year, with concerns about public health risks due to flooding.

He said OUA met with Senator (Denise) Grimsley’s aides for help to move the $523,000 to the southwest section project.

“We got authorization to move that money over,” he said.

The project will cost $12 to $13 million and will be done in two phases, he said.

“Next on the list is Whispering Pines Water Management Improvement project,” Mr. Creasean said. The pipe is in the ground, he said.

“This is a mandatory hook-up area,” he said.

He said 97 out of 192 customers have taken advantage to the no-cost tie-in. OUA will contact the remaining 95 again.

He said they also applied for a renovation grant for the OUA office to restore the Okeechobee People’s Bank facade. Last year, OUA’s project ranked 12 and the grant money ran out before it got that far on the list. This year, OUA’s renovation is ranked at 21.

He said OUA’s deep injection well is being considered by SFWMD for a short-term test of a plan to use deep well injection technology to dispose of excess freshwater that would otherwise flow to the coastal estuaries.

He said they believe they can pump 15 million gallons of water a day into the deep well.

The water in a deep well injection system goes into the Boulder Zone, which contains brackish water. Water in the Boulder Zone moves very slowly – one EPA study projected that it moves about one foot or less per year – and eventually comes out deep in the ocean.

Currently, the deep injection well is used for excess treated wastewater if there is too much water to be accommodated by the OUA spray field and recycling the water on a nearby orange grove. While the capacity is 15 million gallons a day, OUA may use only 2 million gallons of that capacity.

Chairman Burroughs said the county should continue to push for state funding for septic-to-sewer conversion for homes in Treasure Island and on Taylor Creek.

“We need to find a supporter on the (Florida) Senate side to promote funding for the septic-to-sewer project for water flowing into Taylor Creek,” he said.

In other business, the commission gave preliminary plat approval to Berman Ranch LLC for a subdivision of 21 homes on Southeast 40th Avenue, between State Road 710 and the CSX Railroad Tracks.

Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs expressed concern that project will include 21 new septic tanks near the L-63 canal when the focus should be on septic-to-sewer conversion projects

“We continue to be our own problem with septic tanks,” he said.

Commissioner Kelly Owens said the plans should include sidewalks for children who will walk to the elementary school.

“We the county needs to start stipulating that if a new development goes in they have a package plant or are tied to sewer. This septic tank business has got to stop,” said Chairman Burroughs.

“There are areas in this county and there are many, many areas on the coast where septic tanks should not be put in, on very small lots with high water tables,” agreed Jeff Sumner, speaking for the project.

“There are instances where septic tanks are still legitimate,” he said, noting this property has distance from the water table.

He said unless a package plant is designed to treat for phosphorus, it will not prevent phosphorus from getting into the lake.

The commission approved the plat 4-1, with Commissioner Owens voting against approval.

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