The Town of Hilton Head Island was recently hit with eye-opening news that should move town leaders to action.
University of South Carolina Beaufort biologist Stephen Borgianini recently warned town officials during a sewer summit that the hundreds of faulty septic systems in north-end communities pose health risks for residents and the island at-large.
The feces, urine and other waste that pools on the ground in these communities could carry deadly bacteria and viruses. Families and children in the neighborhoods could be exposed to pathogens, Borgianini said.
The squalid conditions pose risks for the island at-large, too. The untreated sludge eventually makes its ways into our creeks, marshes and other waterways.
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Kudos to Mayor David Bennett who has prioritized the laying of sanitary sewer lines and hooking residents up to them.
But it's going to take more than political will to get the job done. It's estimated to cost about $6 million just to provide sewer access to the remaining island residents who lack it. And it will take an unknown additional amount to connect each home to those new lines.
Town leaders are brainstorming now on ways to pay for it, including loans, federal and state grants, and shifting money in the town's budget.
While it would be ideal for residents who get the hookups to foot the entirety of the bill, we know that isn't likely to happen. Many residents who rely on septic systems are low-income. They don't have the thousands of dollars required to tap into new sewer lines.
And while the town should track down absentee landlords and fine them for allowing these conditions to exist, that won't solve the big-picture problem. The island's high water table, sandy soil and frequent rainfall make it a bad location for septic tanks.
The only long-term solution is to provide access to sanitary sewer. And it's going to take a significant investment of public dollars to make that happen.
We believe that this is one government expenditure that is worth it. Public health must be a priority for town leaders.
Town leaders should keep in mind that they're called to serve all of the island's residents, including those who lack access to this basic service. They deserve better. And the town can -- and should -- do better.