DUNEDIN — “If you build it, they will connect” is the motto of the city’s plan to connect more homeowners who are now using septic systems onto the city’s sanitary sewer system.
City Public Works Director Jorge Quintas and Assistant Public Works Director Paul Stanek updated city commissioners on plans to control stormwater intrusion into the city’s wastewater treatment plant and incentives that could persuade more homeowners to connect to the city’s sewer system.
During the March 17 work session, Stanek told commissioners the city is working diligently to reduce infiltration of groundwater into defective sewer pipes and manholes that are mainly found in older developments. City crews are also making improvements to reduce the amount of stormwater directly discharged into sanitary sewers from roof drains and stormwater runoff.
Stanek said the city has undertaken a plan to rehabilitate or replace aging infrastructure, such as lining older sewer pipes and replacing manhole covers with rain trays.
While the city has an active manhole and sewer cleaning program, he said, one of the biggest clogging problems is caused by disposable wipes that clump up and do not degrade.
Public works officials have a vigorous plan to upgrade lift stations, especially those in low-lying areas that flood easily in storms. As one example, he said this year the city installed $476,000 worth of emergency backup pumps at two lift stations to expel raw sewage in the event of a power failure or if the lift station is unable to keep up with the flow during a heavy rain event.
The city will also spend more than $2 million to reconstruct or rehabilitate other lift stations. The new stations will have increased storage and pumping capacity, enabling them to operate more quickly and efficiently to prevent overflows. Additionally, “these rehabs include provisions for backup pumps to aid in pumping during emergency situations,” he told commissioners.
The increased capacity of lift station 32 will enable the city to add sewer system customers and allow some Lofty Pine Estates homeowners to abandon septic systems.
A $160,000 sanitary sewer replacement on Edgewater Drive is designed to replace an old pipe that was failing and out of alignment. This replacement reduces water infiltration and entry of sand and debris into the city’s sewer system, he explained.
In total, in 2019 the city will have spent $5.8 million on upgrading lift stations, replacing or lining aging pipes, and rehabilitation sanitary sewer manholes.
Stanek advised commissioners if the city budgeted $1 million a year to replace aging clay pipes it would take about 81 years to achieve the goal.
“I think we can do better,” said Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski. “A million a year isn’t enough to replace this infrastructure … Eighty-one years is too long.”
Stanek noted a future rate study can address how much the city will have to spend to replace aging infrastructure faster.
Public works officials also provided suggestions on how the city could persuade more homeowners to abandon septic systems and connect to city sewers, even those in unincorporated areas within the city’s service area.
Stanek explained the city has 263 septic systems in and around the city, within its sewer service area. Sixty-eight have sewer available for hook up — 36 inside the city and 32 just outside in the unincorporated areas.
He said 195 properties do not have a sewer system connection main available nearby, including two septic tanks at the Dunedin Golf Club, one near the maintenance area and one at tee No. 5. Twenty-nine other properties are within city limits and 164 are in unincorporated areas within the sewer system service area.
The city has an active plan is to install the sewer main infrastructure to nearby properties on septic, Stanek noted. Latest sewer main connection projects include:
• Lofty Pine Estates Sewer Project, which is a joint effort with the county to provide service to 108 properties in the unincorporated area.
• Garrison Road Sewer Extension Project, which will provide 12 properties with access to city sewer mains and the potential to add eight additional properties.
• The Beltrees Road and Eagle Lane Extension Project, which will provide eight more properties with the potential to connect to sewer service.
• The Friendly Lake Sewer Extension Project, which will provide three dwellings with the ability to connect to sewer service.
It can cost a property owner from $4,000 to $6,000 for a typical gravity main connection to the city’s sanitary sewer systems. The cost includes impact, permit and connection fees, plumbing costs and septic tank abandonment.
As incentive, for property in unincorporated areas, the county funds the cost of connection from the sewer main to the house along with septic tank abandonment. Stanek said the city can offer the same incentive, which would save a city property owner about $3,500 to connect.
He advised the commission can also decide whether to use changes to the city’s sewer impact fees as an incentive to connect, after a rate study analysis. For example, the current impact fee to connect to the sewer system for those in the city or willing to annex is $1,811.
However, for those outside the city and not willing to annex, it’s $4,500. In addition, the commission could adopt a 25 percent impact fee surcharge on properties outside the city that reject the idea of annexation.
City commissioners will hold a work session and public hearings, after the rate study, to consider any incentives or changes to its sewer connection permit fee.