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Study begins on installing sewers in Summerplace

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS, (Week of September 12, 2013)

Indian River County and the city of Vero Beach are reacting quickly, at least in terms of government time, to the latest and perhaps most serious threat to the Indian River Lagoon.

That threat, pollution from thousands of outdated septic systems on the island and countywide, only came to light in March, when Harbor Branch research scientist Brian LaPointe released a study showing much of the excess nitrogen in the lagoon comes from human waste.

The nitrogen is a problem because it feeds algae blooms that cloud the water and smother sea life.

The Vero City Council in June directed City Manager Jim O’Connor to develop a long-term plan to end septic tank contamination by installing sanitary sewer lines in neighborhoods close to the lagoon, and it has since asked the city utility commission for an action plan to reduce pollution from human waste and bacteria.

In August, the county followed suit when the commission approved funds for sewer system feasibility studies in Summerplace on the island and in a section of north Sebastian adjacent to the lagoon.

“We are looking at the possibility of installing sewers to pick up approximately 300 homes in Summerplace area,” says county utility chief Vincent Burke. “We chose Summerplace because of its proximity to the ocean and lagoon and because the county already has some infrastructure in place there.”

The existing infrastructure includes some sewer lines and a pump, commonly called a lift station, at the intersection of CR-510 and A1A that captures sewage from Wabasso Beach Park and a limited number of nearby lots and channels it to the Gifford wastewater treatment plant.

The new work contemplated by the county will involve installing additional sewer lines throughout the Summerplace area, where most of the houses, built in the 1960s, have outdated septic systems that leach pollution into groundwater connected to the Atlantic and the lagoon.

Vero Beach engineering firm Schulke, Bittle and Stoddard, LLC will do the feasibility study at a cost of $38,500 with the aim of figuring out the most cost-effective type of sewer system for the area.

The three systems being considered are gravity, low pressure and vacuum. In a gravity system, sewage would flow from each home into a main pipe running down the center of the street that would carry waste to a lift station that would pump it south. In a low pressure system, there would be a small pump at each home to force wastewater through the pipes. A vacuum system would rely on a pump that would suck wastewater into central collection facilities where it would then be fed into larger pipes leading to the wastewater treatment plant.

Burke said another reason Summerplace seemed like a good place for the county to begin tackling the septic contamination problem is that the streets are unpaved, making it less costly to dig trenches for sewer mains and to repair roadways afterward.

Schulke, Bittle and Stoddard, LLC will do soil testing, surveying and topographical mapping to determine what type sewer system will work best and be most economical.

The company will prepare preliminary layouts for the three alternative systems with estimated construction costs for each type. It will also produce a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of each sewer system for the Summerplace area.

It is a measure of the county’s sense of urgency and desire to quickly address septic system contamination that the Summerplace and Sebastian reports are due in October, just 60 days after studies were approved.

“The engineering firms wanted 90 days to complete the work,” Burke says. “But the commission is very concerned about this problem and wants to see its options as soon as possible.”

Masteller & Moler, Inc. will do the North Sebastian Area feasibility study for a cost of $29,960.

The study area includes residential and commercial properties between U.S. 1 and the lagoon from Main Street in the south to the mouth of the St. Sebastian River in the north.

We chose that area mainly for ecological reasons, because the septic tanks there are right on the shore of the lagoon,” Burke says.

On the island, Burke says the county will need citizen buy-in before the sewer project proceeds. New sewer users typically are assessed through impact fees or other means to pay for added wastewater infrastructure, though in some cases cities and counties split the cost with residents.

Once the Summerplace engineering report is done and cost estimates are available, Burke says the county will meet with residents to try and garner support for the project.

“We are trying to come up with ways to entice them to participate,” Burke says. “We are looking at financing and grant possibilities that would pick up part of the cost or spread it over time.”

Burke says the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or other state or federal agencies may be willing to help fund the project as a means of reducing water pollution and protecting the environment.