Why we must remove septic tanks, add sewer lines

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Following the shellfish harvesting closure for a portion of the May River in 2009, the Town of Bluffton, through Town Council and the May River Watershed Action Plan Advisory Committee (WAPAC), has emphasized the need to eliminate septic tanks in the watershed as recommended in the May River Watershed Action Plan.

Eliminating septic tanks will reduce the potential for contamination of Bluffton's groundwater and surface water resources; preserve Bluffton's critically sensitive natural resources, including the May, Okatie, Colleton and New Rivers; and minimize the threat that failing septic systems pose to public health.

Extending and connecting residents to sanitary sewer has been a major component of Town Council's strategic priorities to improve the quality of life for our citizens and to protect the May River and surrounding rivers and watersheds.

Since 2010, the town, with financial assistance from grant funds and in partnership with Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority, has extended sanitary sewer service to most of the Buck Island-Simmonsville Road neighborhoods, providing sewer service to more than 700 residents in the area.

Current sewer projects include the Jason Street area of Old Town as well as the final phase of Buck Island-Simmonsville, which will remove an additional 33 septic systems.

There are still pockets within the Historic District without available sanitary sewer service. The Sewer Connection and Extension Policy, approved on Sept. 12, is the blueprint for how the town will further implement Town Council's goal of providing public sewer access and connection for all town residents.

The policy is designed to address and implement four priorities, which include Town of Bluffton strategic planning, regional coordination, Town of Bluffton code revisions and program development, and proactive community education and programs.

Plan highlights include:

  • Promote sanitary sewer extension projects throughout the town's jurisdiction as part of the five-year Capital Improvement Program projects until sanitary sewer is available and all residents are connected.
  • Prioritize acquisition of roads with unclear ownership located in Bluffton and within 500 feet of the May River and Heyward, Huger and Verdier coves to accommodate sanitary sewer extension construction projects.
  • Explore partnerships with Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority (BJWSA) and Beaufort County to implement the May River Watershed Sewer Master Plan to eliminate septic systems throughout the May River Watershed that are outside the town limits.
  • Revise Town of Bluffton Code and develop programs that better address individual sewer connection hardships and incentivize resident connection.
  • Develop a proactive community education program that provides residents with knowledge and skills to properly operate and maintain their septic systems until sanitary sewer is available throughout the next several years.
  • Respond to reported septic failures to ensure proper functioning to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public and environment.

This is very important for our town, and I am hopeful this will serve as a template for all other unincorporated areas of our county.

Lisa Sulka is the mayor of the Town of Bluffton.

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