Sewer authority to connect to 40 homes in Okatie; resident concerned

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comDecember 15, 2013 

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The Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority is using a state grant to connect homes in an Okatie neighborhood to a new sewer line, but one resident worries that's a waste of money.

Some homes in the neighborhood on Old Bailey Road, just off S.C. 170 near Callawassie Island, had new septic tanks installed in late 2011, also with the help of a state grant, resident Lula Hamilton said.

Less than a year later, representatives from BJWSA and the Lowcountry Council of Governments, which partnered with the utility to secure a sewer grant, were visiting the neighborhood to gauge interest in installing a new sewer line, Hamilton said.

"Look, if you guys thought that you were going to bring this sewer system in, why waste my money putting down new septic tank systems?" she said.

Both projects are meant to improve the Okatie community and the river basin environment, according to Michelle Knight, Lowcountry Council of Governments' community and economic development director.

"There are going to be times where we do a (community development) block grant, where we're going to hit somebody who's already received assistance in some way, shape or form," Knight said. "Does that mean we shouldn't do it? I would think not. With (the sewer), we're doing something that's much more permanent."

The Council of Governments is a regional organization involved in planning, economic and workforce development in Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties. During the past three years, the council has used a state grant to repair septic systems across the Okatie River basin to reduce water pollution, said Ginnie Kozak, the council's planning director.

The new sewer line will be a permanent fix, BJWSA spokesman Matt Brady said. Instead of relying on individuals to maintain their septic systems, the neighborhood will have the support and reliability of BJWSA regular maintenance, he added.

"The grant is a long-term solution for wastewater services in the area," Brady said. "It benefits these residents by providing a sustainable public wastewater system, and it also benefits our sensitive environment."

The new sewer project will cost nearly $390,000, funded by a community development grant awarded in July, Brady said. The state awards such grants for revitalizing neighborhoods and improving community infrastructure, and the program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Surveyors are working in the neighborhood, and construction should begin sometime in spring, Brady said.

The grant is designed to serve low-income neighborhoods, Knight said. All 40 households on Old Bailey Road qualify, so the grant will cover the cost of hooking to the sewer line and retiring each home's septic tank, she said.

In addition, BJWSA has agreed to waive its one-time, $3,000 capacity fee for hooking onto the authority's system, Knight said.

However, the monthly usage charges that accompany the sewer could be burdensome for senior citizens relying on Social Security in the area, according to Hamilton, who is 75.

"There's a lot of senior citizens in this area; a lot of them live by themselves," Hamilton said. "We really can't afford it."

The average sewer bill might run about $42 per month, Knight said. That's based on an average usage identified on the state grant application of about 6,000 gallons of sewage per month, she said.

"That's not exactly inexpensive in a month, but if you run it out over a year, it's only $507.60," Knight said. "If you're having to pump your septic tank out more than annually or make repairs, you're going to spend more than that."

In the long run, the monthly costs of the sewer system will be less than the price of environmental cleanup and septic repairs years from now, Brady said.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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