By Cindy Jackson
June 29, 2020
A community meeting regarding the American Beach Well and Septic Tank Phaseout Plan was the issue and the event took place at Burney Park on June 27, 2020.
Some might call it a “dog and pony show,” others may refer to it a “three ring circus” (it did have one incredibly large tent for attendees and several big screens which showcased the presentation) and still others might refer to it as mounting a “full court press,” – an idiom suggesting an aggressive approach in which all available resources and manpower are sent to a location.
And that it was. Mike Mullin, County Manager, was the master of ceremonies (MC). Also in attendance from the County were Assistant County Manager Taco Pope, Office of Management and Budget Director, Megan Diehl, Public Works Director, Doug Podiak, Interim Director of Planning and Economic Opportunity, Valerie Feinberg, and Sabrina Robertson Public Information Officer, in addition to representatives from a few other departments. There was even a drone in the air.
Mullin mentioned several times during the 90-minute meeting, that this project for American Beach is a top priority. The County has been working on such a phase-out plan for several years with part of the strategy being to keep costs as low as possible. It seems that part of the mission has now been accomplished.
Stephen Spratt, System Manager for the Florida Governmental Utility Authority (FGUA), was the main speaker. As explained on the organization’s website, “The Florida Governmental Utility Authority was formed in 1999 through an interlocal agreement between Brevard, Lee, Polk and Sarasota counties. By forming the FGUA, these counties used resource sharing to provide drinking and wastewater service to their citizens at a lower cost and with more local management. Today, FGUA has over 80 systems in 13 counties across Florida. . . and provides service to approximately 120,000 customer connections.”
Mr. Spratt began his presentation with a timeline of significant events which included:
- September 2016 Work began on the Master Development Plan for water/sewer conversion by GAI Consultants
- September 2018 GAI Program Report issued. The report confirmed Nassau Amelia Utilities (NAU) has sufficient water and wastewater treatment capacity to serve new customers at American Beach
- Conceptual plan and opinion on probable construction cost included
- December 2019 Community survey conducted finding Water and Sewer among the most important improvements needed at American Beach
- An interlocal agreement between FGUA and Nassau County was approved
- January 2020 American Beach Community Survey Results Revealed
- February 2020 Household Income Survey Conducted
Median household income in the study area is $35,000
- April 2020 FDEP (Florida Department of Environment Protection) grant approved
Spratt went on to explain how FGUA and Nassau County are attempting to maximize
outside revenue sources. The fact that it is a groundwater protection and water quality project aligns with state environmental priorities. Other factors that make the American Beach project especially palatable are that it is on the Atlantic, is situated between two aquatic preserves – the Nassau River-St. Johns’ River Marshes Aquatic Preserve and the Fort Clinch Aquatic Preserve and are perhaps a textbook example of a failing septic system that threatens the water supply.
An important factor in the equation is the creation of a special district. Here again, the creation of a special district will help to increase the likelihood of getting additional state monies. The Board of County Commissioners is expected to do that in the July-August timeframe.
Certain state funds are only available to “cities, counties and special districts” with populations of 15,000 or less and some Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant programs were specifically designed to assist smaller communities with affordability constraints.
The membership of the governing board of the special district yet to be created was a question/concern expressed by a few of the 50plus attendees — as was the cost.
Spratt prepared an updated total project cost estimate of $7,718,992.00.
He also provided three charts outlining the annual cost to property owners based on financing for ten years, 15 years and 20 years – all with a 70/30 funding split (70% provided by grant monies and 30% to be the responsibility of the property owner). All financing is based on 2% interest.
For both water and sewer, the initial prepayment amount would be $8,040.26.
Add to that would be monthly usage fees.
Another point of contention expressed during the question/answer section of the presentation was the fact that any nonpayment could result on a lien being attached to the property.
There is much work yet to be done but if all goes well, construction could begin in 2022.
County Manager Mullin emphasized a number of times that there is no mandate to connect to municipal water and if property owners do not want this project to go through, they need to let their elected representatives know.
Part and parcel of receiving any state money is a mandate for community engagement so there will no doubt be many more meetings like the one held on June 27 and many others before it. For more information on American Beach Neighborhood Planning, go to https://www.nassaucountyfl.com/990/American-Beach-Neighborhood-Planning.