JEA CEO: Septic tank phase-out plan underfunded

The utility estimates it is about $31.8 million short of the money needed to complete the Northwest Jacksonville project.

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JEA can’t complete a 2016 plan to phase out aging septic tanks in three Northwest Jacksonville neighborhoods because it is about $31.8 million short of funding, utility leaders said.

JEA CEO Jay Stowe said at the Jan. 28 JEA board meeting that the project to bring city sewer service to the Biltmore, Beverly Hills and Christobel neighborhoods is over budget.

“Unfortunately, the money dedicated by the city and JEA is not enough to fund all of these areas. I’ve asked JEA staff to work with city staff to revisit the septic tank phase-out plan and determine a viable plan for moving forward,” Stowe said. “We can’t piecemeal this project.” 

JEA has $54,161,094 in dedicated septic tank phase-out funding, utility Media Relations Coordinator Simone Garvey-Ewan said in an email. 

Utility officials said design and construction in the Christobel neighborhood haven’t started and will cost $25.8 million. The Beverly Hills East project is in the design phase, but estimates show JEA $6 million short.

Garvey-Ewan said the Biltmore C and Beverly Hills projects are under construction and Beverly Hills West will begin in March. Both are fully funded. 

City Council matched JEA’s $15 million commitment to fund the septic tank phase-out in August 2016 that at the time included 1,150 lots. There are now 1,589 lots in JEA’s septic tank phase-out area.

Higher priority was given to neighborhoods where remediation would benefit water quality in the city’s 25 tributaries or those areas deemed to have the greatest need by the Duval County Health Department.

JEA also allocated an additional $1.65 million annually since the bill was approved. JEA and the city amended the interagency agreement in February 2019 that added $15.155 million to JEA’s total contribution.

The utility also paid about $1 million in fees and other costs for the project.

Stowe said Jan. 28 there isn’t a clear answer to why JEA’s cost estimate was low, but he’s asked utility officials to coordinate with the city Department of Public works and return with a plan to complete the project.

“In an existing area of already developed land, it’s very difficult to get those estimates to find out what was in the area and what is going on,” he said.

Stowe, who’s been CEO for about two months, said there isn’t a timeline for a revamped plan.

The city estimated in 2016 that 65,000 septic tanks needed to be replaced in Jacksonville, many of which predate consolidation in 1968. 

“I don’t come with a preconceived answer and I don’t come — being here for two months — thinking that I have a solution to a 60-year problem,” Stowe said. “I’m excited to be here and solve lots of problems. This just happens to be the one in front of us right now.”