Some Hilton Head Island residents' wait for public sewer service will end in a few months, but many still lack the means to untie from their septic tanks.
Hilton Head No. 1 Public Service District and the Town of Hilton Head have teamed to extend sewer service to the Stoney neighborhood.
Squire Pope, Gumtree, Wild Horse and Spanish Wells roads and parts of William Hilton Parkway will be served after the project is completed, said service-district spokesman Pete Nardi.
Workers are building a pump station and sewer main line near the intersection of William Hilton Parkway and Wild Horse Road. The project will provide immediate sewer access to more than 130 properties and can be extended to serve more in the future, Nardi said.
About 8 percent of the service district's more than 18,000 customers remain unconnected to public sewer systems, primarily because sewer service simply isn't available in their area, Nardi said. That leaves about 1,000 properties forced to use unreliable and potentially harmful septic systems, he said.
But even where sewer service is available, not everyone is willing or can afford to connect.
Some property owners in the Stoney area will have connection costs of about $5,000 to $7,000. . Property owners are offered a 20-year low-interest assessment to pay that cost over time.
The utility has made progress in extending service, though.
In 2004, sewer was available to about 80 percent of the district's customers. With the completion of projects under construction and those that are planned, about 95 percent will have service available. The utility has spent about $3.5 million in that span to extend service.
"Septic systems are ill-suited for use on Hilton Head Island due to our high groundwater table, resulting in failures that threaten public health and the environment," Nardi said.
About $8.1 million in projects remain to complete access in north- and mid-island, Nardi said. Costs -- to the district and to customers -- could make further progress difficult, Nardi said. The district estimates several hundred island septic systems are owned by low-income residents.
"The utility doesn't raise rates or taxes to install sewer. It's customer-borne, and connection is voluntary," Nardi said. "You need customers willing to incur the costs. But before that, you need to get the backbone infrastructure in there."
Typically, sewer extensions are paid for by developers or at the request of property owners.
In the Stoney area, the town will pick up $1 million of the $1.7 million cost to install the sewer lines and lift station through tax increment financing. TIF districts allow municipalities to collect taxes generated by new development and increased property values to pay for public improvements that theoretically spur yet more growth in the districts.
Hilton Head PSD will cover the rest.
"In TIF districts, the intent is to invest in public infrastructure to spur development, redevelopment and property values (in distressed areas), and putting sewer in seems consistent with that goal," said town manager Steve Riley.
Major areas still left without public sewer service are Baygall and Spanish Wells.
Follow staff writer Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.