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Columns

'Sick' Idea: Septic Tanks Used to Control Growth

November 16, 2015 - 2:30pm

When Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard voted two years ago not to fund a DNA study of the pollutants in the St. Lucie River by Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute's Brian Lapointe, we were somewhat surprised at her dissent … but our most environmentally concerned citizens trusted her.

Heard told us then that she already knew the source. She said, “It's agriculture. Not septic tanks.”

Well, that study came back this month with overwhelming, resounding proof that NO, it's NOT agriculture, it's septic tanks. Human waste is poisoning our groundwater, our surface waters, the wildlife that lives in it, and is damaging not only the St. Lucie estuary, but the Indian River Lagoon and our reefs.

Our septic tanks threaten even dolphins that consider this place their permanent home. They do not leave it, even when they eat what kills them.

Does Heard accept the study results? No. Instead, she attempted to poke holes in Lapointe's study to prove that his science is flawed, that it is indeed agriculture that damages the estuary more than septic tanks, and the Lake Okeechobee discharges are more damaging than our own water basin runoff. Yet, two other studies, one of which was conducted by our county staff, echoed Lapointe's results.

Yes, Lake Okeechobee discharges are an issue, but septic tanks are a more immediate issue. Now we know irrefutably that septic tanks near waterways are a menace to life of any kind.

In the fresh light of this study, did our county commission opt for a comprehensive, phased plan to remove all the septic tanks along the shores of our treasured waterways, the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon and the Loxahatchee River? Unfortunately, regrettably, unconscionably NO. They did not.

They had already targeted the septic tanks in our agricultural areas, some of which will not drain into the river for 50 years, and had already killed at least one sewer line extension along the Indian River Lagoon to stop development, and now they've added only two “hot spots” -- in Golden Gate and All American Ditch in Old Palm City for sewer lines, removing a total of 2,100 septic units from the nearly 20,000 we know about.

What about the rest?

Commissioner Doug Smith made a strong case, yet again, to at least put a plan in place, even if it's a 20- or 30-year plan, for what Lapointe said causes at least four times the pollution of lake discharges -- maybe up to seven times more. Having a plan attracts more grant funds -- and we're going to need every dime we can get.

Smith was ignored. Why? Because sewer systems foster development. They will make this place a more desirable place to live, and will eliminate the need for septic drain fields, allowing property owners more options to use their property.

It's a sick way to control development. Literally. Sick.

Allowing our septic tank effluent to feed the toxic algae that kills our sea grasses; letting the effluent-borne bacteria and viruses and pharmaceuticals infect our groundwater, our rivers and the lagoon; and allowing our dolphins to suffer and our reefs to die because that's a better alternative than allowing any growth, which also would help fund a sewer system, too?

This truly archaic policy makes no sense. Our growth is strictly controlled by our Comprehensive Growth Management Plan -- as it should be. Controlled growth. We've won awards for that plan, yet this fight over sewer systems has been ongoing for more than two decades.

When Maggy Hurchalla was an elected county commissioner, she led the fight to KEEP septic tanks even for new development in order to thwart growth. She won the fight then, and she's still fighting. No need for a countywide plan, she still says. Just get those hot spots ... well, just get some of the hot spots. Ignore the ones on the Loxahatchee, she insists, a refrain parroted by Sarah Heard, Ed Fielding, and Anne Scott, her faithful commissioners, and even Marty Baum, our Indian Riverkeeper.

What's difficult to follow is that in one breath, Fielding is leading the charge against septic tanks to justify gutting the Community Redevelopment projects, yet he, Anne Scott and Sarah Heard laud the effectiveness of septic tanks along the Loxahatchee in order to justify their ban on sewer lines into the secondary urban services district. Then they blast septic tanks again when farmers want to build a packing house.

A dichotomy? Definitely. Their priority is not water quality. Their priority is stopping all growth of any kind, anywhere.

They are willing to destroy our CRAs, pollute our rivers and make our dolphins sick, if necessary, to ensure that Martin County is set aside as an enclave for only the mega-wealthy. They are succeeding.

Barbara Clowdus is editor and publisher of Martin County Currents. This commentary is reprinted from the Currents' November edition, just out -- online and in print.

Comments

ridiculous uninformed article. Brian Lapointe is obsessed with septic tanks. Yes there are some areas that need to fixed. Stop the discharges and send clean water south then we can start working on this issue. Doug Smith wants to steal amendment one money. You all do after your ridiculed amendment one now you want the cash. The reason this won't get fixed is people inability to not take sides and think this issue out. When you have people like Barbara Clowdus and Nancy Smith and their constant straw man arguments. Yes and many can't afford. Many people can't even afford a pumpout. The best thing is this. The no septic inspections was a GOP ploy to save their followers from communism and all kinds of things. Google septic inspections, gop, gaetz, negron etc. Then if you have an issue go ask them. your friends.

I shopped for a house in Martin County. As soon as I found out everything I looked at was OLD, OVERPRICED, and ON SEPTIC TANK. I bought in PSL where homes are not so run down. Stop making excuses for poluting our Water. I can tell you from experience, entire Counties can be sued for poluting with septic and Martin County is headed that way. When this happens you will be paying for a new sewer system and another Failed Lawsuit. It will only cost you more the longer you fight and wait.

As ricks cronys loot the taxes for corporate welfare ,,,there nothing left for infrastructure ,,,,,,,,,trickle down bs

By the way, Barbara, when did you discover that development follows water and sewer pipes? It couldn't have been recently. I hope. Did you ever meet a politician who was brave enough to sacrifice the next election by voting to tell homeowners they are going to be on the hook for $10,000, or $15,000 or $20,000 each? That if they try to sell they're going to have a hard time of it because buyers won't want to take on that debt? You've way oversimplified the issue. Big Ag does have an inexcusable part in the pollution. I guess that's ok with you. Brian LaPointe has been pointing at septics for a very very long time. This is not new news. The only thing new here is that you've gone bananas over it and twisted things to suit yourself and a very very big industry. I don't even think Brian himself would approve of the way you wrote this.

In Port St. Lucie, a less affluent city than Stuart, residents managed to take on that debt of building water & sewer 20 years ago. Yeah they hollered but they did it. Not you. You want ag to pay for their pollution but you don't want to pay for yours. We got it cheap in Florida, we got it good here but we got to take care of the environment. We should ALL pay to keep our water clean. Industry & & farmers & homeowners too. Stop bellyaching about the cost & looking for someone else to pay your share of fixing fouled water.

Wow. A new spin on doing nothing good in a positive way. Great writing. Not.

Yes, but, WHO is going to pay for this? You? It would force me to move out of my home. Doesn't it count that thousands of people would find this so unaffordable they would have to leave? Find a viable source of money to carry most of the cost and I think most people would gladly make the switch as long as the sewer service fees were capped forever for that homeowner at a reasonable and affordable amount. I really think you should stop huffing with the outrage and indignation and insults and provide viable suggested sources that would pay at least 75 percent of the cost of each septic removal and sewer hookup. That would be a useful column worth reading.

You are right, Kelly, on many points. There are no simplistic solutions, but we cannot begin even to attack the problem without first admitting that septic tank effluent is a major contributor to the pollution of our waterways AND our groundwater. By no means is it the only contributor, but we make zero headway in curing the ills of the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie estuaries when Martin County continues to point an accusatory finger to agriculture ALONE as the primary polluter, thus absolving themselves of any responsibility for cleaning up the mess.

Comments are now closed.

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