July 21, 2008

Failing Septic Tanks Will Be Thing of the Past in One Bluffton Area

By Renee Dudley, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Jul. 21--About 87 homes along a stretch of Buck Island Road in Bluffton could be connected to a sewer system by fall 2009, town and utilities officials said last week.

That stretch is the first phase of Bluffton's five-year plan to connect all homes along Buck Island and Simmonsville roads to a sewer system.

The town has received a $500,000 state grant, which it must match by 25 percent, and engineers will now design the project.

The grant will pay for the first phase, which is likely to bring sewer service to all homes on Buck Island Road north of Hyon Road, as well as Ballfield and Centerfield roads and Twin Oaks mobile home park, said Jeff McNesby, Bluffton's environmental protection director and the project manager.

McNesby said both Buck Island and Simmonsville roads have "tremendous need" for a public sewer system. Along those roads, the town has detected about a dozen failing septic tanks, he said. Town staff suspects there are many more.

The newly developed areas of town already have sewer service, he said.

Failing septic tanks can pose both environmental and health hazards.

"Kids play in the backyard and play in raw sewage," McNesby said of the failing tanks.

And just a couple of failing tanks could harm water quality in local rivers, and potentially lead to the closing of shellfish beds for harvesting, he said.

Once the Buck Island project is completed, every residence along the new sewer line must connect to it, said Dick Deuel, chief engineer for Beaufort Jasper Water & Sewer Authority. The authority will waive the hook-up fee for low- to moderate-income residents, which is $2,760 per connection. This benefit will count toward part of the town's 25 percent grant match.

The water and sewer authority is also paying for upgrades to the sewer pump station to be built near the future Bluffton Middle School. The station will be large enough to service all phases of the Buck Island and Simmonsville roads sewer project, Deuel said.

The grant will pay for the septic tanks to be de-commissioned, a $500 process in which the tanks are pumped out and filled with sand, Deuel said.

McNesby said the town probably will apply for the same community development grant in 2009 to pay for future phases. The next phases will include either the southern section of Buck Island Road or the northern section of Simmonsville Road, he said.

The town had applied for, but did not receive, a waiver that would have allowed the state to provide an additional $500,000 to the grant the town just received. Phases one and two would have been completed simultaneously if that match had been awarded.

The timing of future phases will depend on cost and need, factors that will be discussed in public hearings, McNesby said. He expects work on phase one to begin by next spring.


Households with low to moderate annual incomes may be exempt from paying the $2,760 fee to hook up to a new sewer line on Buck Island Road. Here are the income levels for households that would be eligible:

--One-person household: $35,300

--Two-person household: $40,300

--Three-person household: $45,350

--Four-person household: $50,400

Source: Lowcountry Council of Governments


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

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