JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It's an expensive and dirty issue and the City of Jacksonville is about to spend millions of dollars to start fixing it.
There are 65,000 septic tanks in Jacksonville. Some of them have leaked and polluted local waterways. Three years ago, the city launched a program to address the problem. Now, the first construction work is about to dig in.
Water flows down the drainage ditches in the Biltmore neighborhood in Northwest Jacksonville. It ends up in little Six Mile Creek, just a few blocks away. In every yard, there's an overgrown mound hiding a tank of human waste. Septic tank failures flow into the creek, too. There are also little blue tanks in yards. They're part of the well system that provides drinking water to neighbors like Mike Shoda.
"I was born and raised here. Typically throughout the neighborhood, the water quality has been poor," Shoda said.
About 300 property owners like Shoda are about to be the first connected to JEA water and sewer through a multimillion dollar initiative launched in 2016. The City of Jacksonville is investing $15 million with JEA investing $30 million more. That money will cover the estimated $35,000 it will cost to connect each property.
"I thought it was too good to be true. Years ago, they talked about doing it and they wanted us to pay the big connection fee and that wasn't feasible. These are just working class people that live in the neighborhood," Shoda said.
JEA needed 70 percent of the 358 owners in Biltmore to agree to the connection. It has more than 80 percent already. The connected owners will be getting water and sewer bills for the first time. They're estimated to be about $70 a month.
Action News Jax's John Bachman asked Shoda if there is any concern that some people can't afford even a $70 a month bill.
"Some of my renters have expressed those concerns but I don't think it'll be an issue," Shoda said.
Shoda said eliminating maintenance on well and septic systems should offset that.
The survey work has been done. Actual construction work starts in May. This project will connect 1,600 homes but there are 65,000 septic tanks in Jacksonville.
"Although it's only a small percentage of the total problem, you don't run a marathon in a single leg. We had to take our first steps," JEA Chief Operating Officer Melissa Dykes said.
She said JEA prioritized three neighborhoods -- Biltmore, Beverly Hills and Christobel -- based on the impact on the St. Johns River, public health and economic development.
"It helps the environment, improves public health and improves the economy of neighborhood by lifting home values and providing economic development opportunities," Dykes said.
For some homeowners in Biltmore, it can't come fast enough.
"I'll be glad to see it. It will eliminate a lot of our headaches," Shoda said.
Seventy-percent of the neighborhood has to agree to this. For anyone who opts out, that will cost them too. Everyone has to pay an availability fee of about $21 dollars a month. The next neighborhood scheduled is Beverly Hills.
For more information visit JEA's website: https://www.jea.com/septic-tank/