CLEARWATER — City sewer service is being extended to the Idlewild neighborhood, but those who put off deciding whether to ditch their septic tanks will face a increasingly heavy price tag.
By late summer, a contractor will begin turning dirt to connect slightly more than half of the 452 property owners. The neighborhood is bounded on the south by Sunset Point Road, on the north by Union Street, on the east by Douglas Avenue and on the west by Kings Highway.
The neighborhood, built mostly in the 1950s, poses a possible environmental hazard. Much of the aging housing has septic tanks that haven't been maintained, city officials say. "A lot of those tanks are at least 50 years old . . . which means a lot of them have failed," said Tracy Mercer, the city's Public Utilities director.
In fact, a 2011 study estimated the majority of the neighborhood's tanks are faulty.
Leaky septic tanks can contaminate ground water, which then flows into rivers, creeks and eventually larger bodies of water, such as Old Tampa Bay.
"We want to keep it from surface water bodies. If it goes through our wastewater treatment plant, it's cleaned up to 99 percent," Mercer said.
In the second stage of the $6.7 million project, plumbers will work to properly retire the septic tanks: pumping out the waste, breaking the concrete bottoms so that they can't hold water and filling them up with clean sand, said Nan Bennett, the department's assistant director.
"You can get it pretty much back to the natural state at that point," she said.
The city has held community forums to inform residents of their options, most recently in June.
Property owners who hook up during the approximately 18-month construction period pay a $900 impact fee but the city waives the connection fees and pays for the septic tank abandonment.
Within a year after construction is complete — sometime in early 2015 — the $900 fee still applies, but residents will also be responsible for connection fees and the cost of retiring their tanks, minus a $450 credit.
After a year, residents lose the credit and must pay the total cost.
After construction is complete, holdouts will be assessed a monthly "availability" charge. That charge will vary, but a single-family residence this fall is scheduled to pay $24.51 if they have a less-than-one-inch water meter.
Low-income citizens who want to connect may be eligible for hardship assistance. A family of four whose income falls at or below $45,540 could be eligible.
City officials say they plan to keep spreading the word this summer. "We'll be calling, knocking on doors," Mercer said.
Reach Charlie Frago at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4159.