Martin County expects to reach goal for septic-to-sewer conversions

MARTIN COUNTY — In the new year, the county will expand its 10-year plan to bring wastewater to thousands more homes. The result will be cleaner water flowing into the region’s waterways.

County commissioners launched the effort by approving a septic-to-sewer program in 2019 after evaluating 24 communities with more than 10,000 homes in unincorporated areas. . Many of the homes are located near waterways such as the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

“We are very interested in ensuring that the properties closest to the river have the greatest impact on the health of the river,” said Leo Repetti, technical services administrator for the county Department of Utilities and Waste Management.

Baker Underground Contractors crew members (from left) Josh Grant, Holwinster Alex and Javier Martinez prepare a hole for a six-foot underground tank (right) for an E1 residential grinding plant to replace an older septic system as part of the Martin County Septic Tank to replace.  Sewer program at a home on SW St. Lucie Street on Friday, October 20, 2023, in Stuart.

Septic tanks can contaminate waterways and wells, while modifications control contamination, according to the Connect to Protect program, the county’s transformation effort.

The connections in the Golden Gate district were recently completed and there will soon be a project in the Port Salerno New Monrovia area.

Costs for renovations

The cost of a remodel, which can be more than $10,000, is similar to the cost of replacing a broken septic tank, according to the county.

“The majority of the cost of connecting residents in a vacuum sewer scenario is the right-of-way infrastructure,” Repetti explained.

The county reimburses those costs as part of the assessments paid by homeowners, he said.

Martin County uses two types of systems in its conversion program: vacuum channels and shredding systems.

Holwinster Alex of Baker Underground Contractors works to create the outgoing piping (above) and incoming piping for the six-foot underground tank placed in a hole during the installation of an E1 residential grinder as part of the Martin County septic system.  Sewage program at a home on SW St. Lucie Street on Friday, October 20, 2023, in Stuart.

The county is seeking state and federal grants and donating local money to keep property owners’ costs below $12,000 per vacuum system. The cost of the vacuum systems can be paid in advance or added to the property owner’s tax bill and paid over a 20 year period.

Mill systems can cost homeowners $10,000 unless the owner connects in the first year the connection is available. Then the cost drops to $8,000.

County officials said Martin County recently received grants that would reduce costs by an additional $1,000 per home.

As with a vacuum system, the cost of the mill systems can be paid in advance or added to the tax bill. However, they can then be paid over a period of 10 years if a property owner connects the connection in the first year.

Vacuum and grinding systems

Converting a vacuum system uses gravity to transport waste and is the most cost-effective for larger communities, according to the county’s Department of Utilities.

In a vacuum system, customers connect to a pumping station that sends wastewater to one of two treatment plants in the county.

Baker Underground Contractors crew members Josh Grant (left) and Javier Martinez dig a line for the new sewer line from a mill tank to the sewer connection while at a home on SW St. Lucie Street on Friday, Oct. 13 Install E1 grinding system residential station.  20.2023, in Stuart.

The other method involves grinding wastewater into an aqueous mixture that is sent via a flexible pipe to a wastewater treatment plant.

Earlier this year, Martin County hired Baker Underground Contractors to install a mill system facility on SW St. Lucie Street near Stuart.

“We just thought it was a good time to do it,” homeowner Matt Sears said as O)ct workers installed pipes in his yard. 20.

He didn’t know how old his septic tank was, so it was unclear if or when it might fail or if contamination would occur.

In the future, Sears said he might want to park a trailer in his yard, which wouldn’t be impossible compared to a septic tank.

Cost-effective systems

“Connecting to the county sewer system is now less expensive for homeowners than using septic tanks and easier to maintain,” said John Baker, owner of Baker Underground Contractors.

For example, the district will maintain the components of a grinding station in the long term. The cost of pumping out a septic tank for a property owner is about $350 and must be done every three to five years, Baker said. Other maintenance may also be required.

“You could pay a price for this (mill system) and then leave it out,” Baker said.

To reach the goal

The district is well on its way to achieving its goal. While infrastructure was installed for nearly 3,000 households in the first four years, work is expected to progress more quickly over the next six years.

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Connections should be available to 7,900 households by the end of 2026. More than 11,000 connections could be available by the end of the 10-year plan.

Already, more homes in unincorporated Martin County are connected to the sewer system than are not. Other jurisdictions such as Sewall’s Point and Stuart are working on their own septic to sewer conversion programs.

Keith Burbank is TCPalm’s watchdog reporter covering Martin County. He can be reached at [email protected].

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