More than 100 residents packed into the lobby of the Community Room on Bald Eagle Drive Tuesday evening to learn what was happening in their neighborhood in regards to being connected to Marco Island’s central sewer system.
The city hosted the open house as they begin the third phase of connecting districts to the city sewer. This phase includes the Lamplighter and Sheffield districts. The open house provided these residents with a brief formal presentation as well as informal one-on-one tours of graphics, maps and information on construction, staging of materials, lift stations, dewatering areas and assessment costs.
“This is a nice change in the City and for the council to let the people involved in the process actually be involved in the process,” said Anthony Costantino.
Costantino’s home on Bond Court off Lamplighter is one of several sites which are being dewatered. He said he was concerned over how long the process would take.
“The dewatering unit on our block is 60-feet long and 10-feet wide with a generator going 24-hours a day. It’s not a shrill noise but a constant low-pitched drum with the smell of diesel fuel ... People on my block are very concerned. It’s not exactly a noiseless thing,” Costantino said.
He and other residents near dewatering sites were concerned about not only the length of time to perform the work but also the integrity of the seawall where the water from the ground was being pumped.
Public Works director Rony Joel assured the community members that if anything was damaged, it would be repaired by the city or contractor.
Costantino said he was against the centralized sewer system since the beginning.
“We have septic ... There’s nothing wrong with it,” he said.
Others, were happy to be connected.
“We have to have it. We’ve needed to replace our septic system for about four to five years and have been waiting for this to happen. It’s about $12,000 for a new septic for our house,” said Debra Houghtaling.
Houghtaling, who lives in the Sheffield district, said she was most curious about the financing and scheduling for her property.
The project manager for the Septic Tank Replacement Program (STRP), Russ DeJonge of Mitchell and Stark Construction Company, the company contracted by the city to connect the remaining properties to the central sewer system, was available to answer questions. About 3,500 single family residences still need to be connected. Many residents said they were concerned about dirt, gravel and mud messes left by crews as well as how long the construction equipment would be in their neighborhoods.
Construction will be taking place between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and contractors have said they are committed to cleaning up after each work day. Length of work on each property is less consistent.
“It’s all dependent on how deep the area is. Some areas that are 16-feet deep can take a week and a half to dewater. If it’s shallow or just a couple feet it may just be a matter of days or no dewatering will be needed at all,” DeJonge said.
Actual construction in front of an individual home should only take about two days, Joel said. That doesn’t include the length of stays for lift stations and dewatering equipment, which vary based on individual properties and districts.
“If you don’t have a lift station near your home now, you won’t be getting one,” Joel said.
Finances were on almost everyone’s mind. The maximum estimated assessment per property is over $18,000 in the Lamplighter district and nearly $23,000 in the Sheffield district. The final costs will be calculated after the contract is complete based on the actual linear feet of pipe installed by the contractor.
Other costs include about $2,000 per property to use the city’s contractor to hook up the individual home to the system and remove their old septic. Private plumbing companies’ rates vary.
“I’ve heard it’s a lot more to hire your own local plumber. Local plumbers are saying ‘you’re crazy not to go to the city’s contractor.’ It’s the economy of scale because the city’s contractor is doing hundreds of these,” said Keith Shinabarger.
In addition to increases in water bills, residents will also be expected to pay for capacity costs estimated at about $4,600 for a home 2,500 square-feet or less. The capacity costs cover the expenses of upgrading the wastewater collection system and expanding the wastewater treatment plant. Overall, property owners who are adding on to the city sewer system are looking at costs ranging from about $20,000 to $30,000, while also experience larger monthly water bills.
For Houghtaling, it’s well worth it when she no longer has to worry about septic backups when family and friends visit.
Each property’s hook-up to city sewer will need to be completed within 90 days after the city has brought the sewer lines to the street.
Properties owners who pay their assessments upfront receive a six percent discount, while those who defer the full payment for 20 years or pay an annual fee over the course of 20 years will be charged interest.
Joel said the city received a state revolving loan that was less than three percent.
Resident John Campbell said he didn’t see the interest rates charged to residents, which are 5.5 to 5.9 percent, fair.
“Unfortunately, the city is in this to make money ... I can’t get even get a CD that will pay that kind of return,” Campbell said.
Many residents said they planned to defer the payment.
“We have a number of elderly people on social security. We don’t ever want people to choose between putting food on the table and sewer,” said City Finance Director Bill Harrison.
For people on fixed-incomes, Harrison recommended the deferment plan. It allows people to either pay when they sell their homes or simply “settle up with the city in 20 years.”
More information about STRP is available on the city’s Web site www.cityofmarcoisland.com. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and follow links to the Septic Tank Replacement Program.