JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – JEA’s new CEO says he’s ready to address a long-standing issue in the Jacksonville community: a promise made 60 years ago during consolidation to connect neighborhoods on the Northside and Westside to city sewer lines so they wouldn’t have to rely on septic tanks.
On Thursday, JEA CEO Jay Stowe spoke about the agreement that the city made with JEA in 2016 to invest more than $30 million to phase out septic tanks in three Jacksonville neighborhoods. News4Jax learned last year that the program hit a snag when the city ran out of money. Stowe spoke about how the estimate on how much the program would cost was wrong.
″I don’t know the details of why it was exactly off, but the combination of time, the economy and the complexity of the work, makes it harder to do, so the estimate was not the same as the funding that was in place for it,” Stowe said.
Stowe said the city and JEA won’t be able to complete the septic tank phaseout program, citing a lack of money. As for why the money is running out, he couldn’t say yet.
The program, which connects city sewer services to homes, is on course to be completed in both the Biltmore and Beverly Hills neighborhoods, but city leaders say they don’t have the funding to complete the project in the Christobel community. That means people there will have to stay on septic tanks for the foreseeable future. Neighbors say the septic tanks back up after hard rains in the area, creating a stench of human feces and urine.
“Unfortunately, the money dedicated to the project from the city and JEA is not enough to fund all of these areas,” Stowe said. “We’ve asked JEA staff to work with city staff and revisit the septic tank phaseout plan and determine a plan for moving forward. We can’t piecemeal the project, and I look forward to working with the city and our partners to find a solution.”
Northside resident Yah Ya Kariem calls it a failure of the city, which, he pointed out, considered spending more than $200 million to help fund the Lot J plan. That deal was eventually rejected by the Jacksonville City Council. Kariem wants his community to be a priority.
“Here we are in this community -- a Black community -- again, we’re at the bottom of the barrel again,” Kariem said.
Stowe, who has only been in charge for eight weeks, said he can’t solve problems that are 60 years old right away, but he said he’s committed to working with the city to fulfill its promise to the people.
“There’s a team of people who looked at this over the past few years within public works and JEA, and we’re going to get that back together to address that third area that has to be done and a long-term solution over the next few years,” Stowe said.