By Wesley LeBlanc [email protected]
ORANGE PARK – A septic tank to sewer project that will drastically improve the health of Doctors Lake by reducing the number of algal blooms in the lake has officially begun.
Approximately 70 homeowners will be removed from their current septic tank systems and placed in the Clay County Utility Authority’s main sewer system. The project is expected to be completed in the first half of 2022.
The kick-off took place on the shores of Doctors Lake on Thursday, September 9, and brought together politicians, engineers, project leaders and local residents to celebrate what will happen in the Doctors Lake community.
“All of this dates back years,” said former state Senator Rob Bradley and current vice chairman of the St. Johns River Water Management District Board. “CCUA, Clay County and the county decided that one of the last major algal blooms we had was a red flag. This is a complicated subject and there are many reasons for it. “
The septic tanks, which do not provide nutrients to the waters of Doctors Lake and the larger St. Johns River, create an intense algal bloom. These flowers destroy valuable ecosystems. County manager Howard Wanamaker said that since water is Clay County’s elixir of life, it is important that the water be returned to a healthier, non-flowered state.
Bradley said the septic tank to sewer project was one of the big parts of the battle against algal blooms. The new sewage treatment plants on Fleming Island are another aspect, and there are many other projects to combat algal bloom.
Bradley, former State Representative Travis Cummings, and Rep. Bobby Payne (R-Palatka) helped secure $ 1.5 million in government funding for the county, about $ 1.2 million of which will be essentially direct go to the residents of Doctors Lake. Because 70 out of 77 properties in six different streets of the municipality receive the financing to bring them from a septic tank into the central sewage system of the CCUA.
CCUA said it was still working on bringing the other lots into the project. CCUA Communications Celeste Goldberg said it is not that the seven lots are necessarily not on board – some have not responded, others are in the military or just gone, but some just don’t want to switch to sewage. One person just replaced their septic tank last year, Goldberg said, and this homeowner didn’t want the replacement to be a waste.
She said that in some cases the cost allocated to each lot for the septic tank to sewer project may not be enough and in those cases the homeowner would have to pay the rest of the cost. Goldberg is confident that the costs will not be extreme, however, and are manageable for those who really want to get from a septic tank to a sewer system.
This Doctors Lake community is one of more than 100 projects across the state to protect water health. Much of the funding comes from Senate Act 712, also known as the Clean Waterways Act, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis. This bill provided the funding Bradley, Cummings and Payne fought for in the Tallahassee delegation. Bradley said his wife, Senator Jennifer Bradley (R-Fleming Island) and Representative Sam Garrison (R-Fleming Island) continue the fight today.
“The competition for money for water quality is fierce,” said Garrison. “Anyone [in Congress], Republicans and Democrats, are fighting for money for their water and to make sure we get it … these funds are great. When the St. Johns River is sick, Clay County is sick and that’s why this project is important. “
Construction on the project will begin on October 1, and completion is tentatively scheduled for April 2022, although it could take longer due to COVID-19 and other external factors. Project engineers say “first half of 2022” is a sure thing.