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In the next six years, the Hilton Head Public Service District plans to connect 1,500 customers still on septic systems to public sewer service.
That would achieve the district's goal of bringing all properties in the north- and mid-island areas online by 2014 -- a plan announced Tuesday at the district's second sewer summit with the Town of Hilton Head Island. The first summit was held in 2005.
District officials say the primary reason driving the effort is to improve sanitation. Septic systems are not suited for the island's high groundwater table, and system failures can threaten public health and pollute the environment, said district general manager Richard Cyr.
Of the 1,500 customers without sewer service, about 300 are able to connect but choose not to. Instead they pay a $300 annual availability fee, which is about the same amount as they'd pay for a year's worth of sewer service. The largest portion of those residents live in Port Royal Plantation; the rest are scattered throughout the district, said spokesman Pete Nardi. The remaining 1,200 do not have access to sewer service.
To give all its customers access, the district plans to build needed infrastructure in phases, beginning with the Squire Pope Road area. That project should be complete by next fall.
Bringing everyone service will cost about a total of $20 million, Cyr said. About $8 million of that will go toward building the sewer system, to which the town has committed $2 million.
Customers currently without service will have to pay the remaining $12 million for sewer line connections, which can cost between $4,000 and $13,000 per hookup.
Residents with low or moderate incomes can get financial help through Project SAFE -- Sewer Access For Everyone. Those who earn less than $30,550 a year can obtain a grant to cover 100 percent of the cost. Those who earn between $30,550 and $54,379 a year can receive partial grants.
The district will notify residents who are eligible for grants in January, Cyr said.
During the meeting, town officials had some suggestions to help the district achieve its goals.
For instance, Councilman George Williams Jr. said the town could create an ordinance requiring residents who sell their homes to connect to public sewer before the real estate could transfer hands.
Island Mayor Tom Peeples did not know if the town could create that requirement, but said the town council could look at the issue.