FORT PIERCE, Fla. — St Lucie County is working to get every homeowner on North Hutchinson Island off septic and connected to sewer, trying to prevent contamination into local waterways.
But Wednesday night, residents in the Queens Cove neighborhood sounded off to staff from the county utility department and Commissioner Cathy Townsend, who hosted an informational session for residents.
A major concern to the dozens of residents in attendance was the out-of-pocket costs they will likely face.
The project will incorporate about 500 homes in three neighborhoods, including Queens Cove, Coral Cove and Fort Pierce Shores.
The county was awarded a state grant of up to $5.75 million to offset costs to homeowners. The county is also designating $1 million from the American Rescue Plan for the project, and it received another grant of nearly $1 million for design and permitting costs.
Despite the designated funding, Townsend said, residents could still pay $10,000 or more per home, comprised of construction costs and a $3200 connection fee.
Residents also have concerns about ongoing water bill costs and the cost to fill or remove septic tanks.
"These kind of dollar values are disincentivizing people to go on septic," said Dr. Edie Widder, an environmentalist and Queens Cove resident. "I'd like to see them mitigate the costs some more. Right now, what homeowner is going to want to buy into this?"
Some residents told county staff they plan to vote no on the proposed project. Widder said she will still vote yes because she wants to protect the health of local waterways.
"We shouldn't allow any more septic systems near bodies of water," Widder said.
Townsend knows it's a high cost for homeowners, but also worries project costs will only grow in the future if residents do not vote to move forward with the project soon.
"If we don't do it, we lose the funding. We lose the grants," Townsend said.
She also anticipates the septic to sewer conversions could potentially be mandated by the state in the future.
"If this was to be an unfunded mandate down the road, 10 years from now, what's going to cost them 10,000 [now] might cost them 30,000, and we might not be successful down the road to get the grant funding," she said.
Ballots will be sent to residents of the three neighborhoods to vote on the project.