JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Some Jacksonville neighborhoods still don't have access to city sewer services and rely solely on septic tanks or well water. It is a $2.5 billion problem that JEA and the city of Jacksonville are chipping away at one community at a time.
At a JEA board meeting Tuesday, members announced major changes will be in store for one community. The utility plans to phase out 358 septic tanks in the Biltmore neighborhood starting in May as part of a $45 million phase-out program.
Jimmy Bays, who lives in the Biltmore area, said he's been waiting for years for his Jacksonville community to be hooked up to the city sewer system.
"It's going to improve the community. It's already improved it," Bays said. "For me, it’s very beneficial because now I’ll have water to my tenant in my apartment.”
The problem citywide, however, is much bigger. JEA and the city have identified 1,600 septic tanks that still need to be phased out. According to environmentalists, the runoff from failing septic tanks creates excessive nutrients in the St. Johns River, resulting in algae blooms and overall water pollution.
According to JEA, neighborhoods are prioritized by three factors: public health, the environmental impact and the economic impact.
The challenge is the high cost.
"The big problem with the 65,000 septic tanks is that it costs $35,000 to $40,000 for each one of them to put in the infrastructure that's needed to provide them with wastewater service," said Melissa Dykes, with JEA. "So what we’re looking at is: Are there innovative ways for us to be able to provide more central infrastructure services without costing $35,000 to $40,000?"
The combined Jacksonville neighborhoods of Biltmore, Beverly Hills and Christobel are slated to have 1,600 septic tanks phased out as part of the program. Residents, including Bays, are looking forward to the infrastructure. But Bays said he's not looking forward to the higher water bill.
"I’m going to have three bills now -- water, sewage, drainage," he said. "But we’ve got to progress."
JEA also announced Tuesday that it plans to hire a consultant to help it determine the most cost-effective and innovative way to phase out septic tanks.
But keep in mind, when the project is complete in the next few years, there will still be a lot of work to do. JEA would have phased out only 1,600 of the 24,000 septic tanks identified.