JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to pass a bill extending city sewer service to communities that rely solely on septic tanks.
The passing of legislative bill 2016-490 means that JEA and the city will spend $15 million each over the next five years to reduce the number of septic tanks that could pollute area waterways including the St. Johns River.
“The impact of the legislation is great. Hopefully it will pass out of council Tuesday night, and we’ll set the priorities and determine how we evaluate. Where do we start? Which neighborhood is the first one and the second one to extend sewer services," City Council President Lori Boyer told News4Jax ahead of the vote.
The city has an estimated 55,000 to 60,000 households with septic tanks. City officials are trying reduce the number of failing septic tanks for both environmental reasons and to promote economic development. Failing septic tanks in neighborhoods near waterways that connect to the St. Johns River can lead to high levels of nitrogen which can result in algae blooms and fish kills. City sewer service also leads to economic growth.
“If you don’t have water and sewer lines and you’re operating on individual septic wells and tanks, it’s much more difficult to get restaurants and grocery stores and manufacturing businesses that create job opportunities to locate in those areas," Boyer said.
Boyer said she remains optimistic for communities wanting septic service even though progress over the years has been slow. In 2006, as part of agreement for a Better Jacksonville and The River Accord, the city set a goal of phasing out 21,000 septic tanks in 22 neighborhoods. To date, about 1,000 thousand septic tanks have been removed.
Boyers said part of the difficulty was that the River Accord agreement was signed in 2006, two years before the economic recession of 2008. She said there’s been a lack of funding and no regulations that prohibit developers from constructing houses with septic tanks.
The number of families affected by this legislation is unknown.
“If you were an area that didn’t have water and sewer lines all the way back to the time of consolidation this could impact you," Boyer said. "So the promises if you will, that have not been fulfilled to extend those services and those areas, those neighborhoods got extra credits, and we will decide which neighborhoods will receive service based upon a number of factors.”