One neighborhood at a time, a project that will allow homes on the northern end of Hilton Head Island to end their reliance on septic tanks and hook up to a cleaner alternative -- sewer lines -- is moving forward.
By next year, 60 of about 600 homes that still lack access to sewer service should get it through a cooperative effort of Hilton Head Public Service District and the Town of Hilton Head Island.
Not all residents are ready to stop using their septic systems, though -- especially if the systems are working properly. To switch from a septic system to a sewer line, a pipe must be buried from the home to the sewer line, which usually runs alongside the street. That can cost between $4,000 and $13,000, depending on how far the home is from the street, said Pete Nardi, spokesman for the district.
Plus, those who do hook up to sewer lines will have to pay monthly bills to the district for sewer service, which can cost between $15 and $35 depending on use.
Connecting to sewer lines is voluntary, Nardi said.
Last summer, the Spanish Wells Plantation Property Owners Association conducted a straw poll to determine if residents wanted access to sewer lines.
"Way less than half" were in favor of it, said association president Sonny Huntley.
Huntley said Spanish Wells Plantation has large lots that are on higher ground than most areas on the island. The neighborhood also has sandy soil, which helps septic systems function properly.
"If our systems were not working fine, we'd probably be calling up the PSD to tell them to bring (sewer lines) here," Huntley said.
Unlike Spanish Wells Plantation, much of the island is low and has soil conditions that cause problems for septic systems. Improperly functioning tanks can threaten public health and the environment, Nardi said.
"You do not want a situation where wastewater is getting into surrounding bodies of water," he said.
Or, as in the case of Veronica Williams', into her dining room.
Williams, who lives on Murray Ave. in Stoney Creek, said flushing the toilet or draining a bathtub on the second floor of her Stoney Creek home can cause the first-floor toilet to back up.
It's worse when it rains, she said.
"Recently, we've been getting a lot of rain, so I've been keeping a watch on it," she said.
Williams said she plans to hook up her home up to sewer lines, which were extended to her neighborhood in 2011.
Only about 5 percent of the district's coverage area on the northern end of the island lacks access to sewer lines -- down from nearly 20 percent a decade ago.
"It's just a handful of patches that (will) remain" after this year's projects are completed, Nardi said.
The phase of the sewer extension project underway now -- providing service to 60 more properties -- is expected to cost about $2 million. The town, is paying 60 percent of the bill and the district the remainder. Construction of a $1 million project to add a pump station and sewer mains in the Spanish Wells area began this month and a similar project is scheduled to be installed in the Baygall area by year's end, Nardi said.
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Related content: Island to add 1,500 sewer hookups, Oct. 29, 2008