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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021 6 months ago

Pine Hills receives grant money to protect local environment

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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection awarded $4.3 million for the area to upgrade homes and offices from septic to sewer.
by: Annabelle Sikes Staff Writer

The Pine Hills area is set to receive some environmental-friendly upgrades. 

Last week, the area obtained a $4.3 million grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in order to upgrade homes and offices in the area from septic to sewer. 

The overall goal is to protect the Wekiva River Basin from septic tank leakage while also creating redevelopment opportunities along Pine Hills Road.

The Pine Hills grant is only a small portion of the $41 million awarded to Orange County by the environmental agency. 

“We’re proud to have acquired this grant and look forward to the improvements we’ll be able to make with the funding,” said Ed Torres, director of Orange County Utilities. “Bringing central sewer service could spark sustainable community redevelopment opportunities along Pine Hills Road. This is a wonderful opportunity to serve our community while improving our environment.”

Executive Director for the Pine Hills Neighborhood Improvement District Sam Weekley said one of the neighborhood's main goals is to get septic tanks off 173 parcels and replace them all with centralized wastewater.

“One of the glaring issues facing the entire improvement district is the lack of infrastructure, but specifically wastewater," Weekley said. "This grant money will help us achieve our goal..."

According to Orange County Utilities, 85% of homes and offices in Pine Hills were built in the 1950s and 1960s, all with individual septic tanks. As pumping stations emerged over the years, most of the homes and businesses were able to hook up to OCU and a centralized wastewater system.

However, the 173 parcels with old septic tanks remain. 

The septic tanks create an environmental issue for Pine Hills. The area is part of the Little Wekiva Watershed, part of the Wekiva River Basis, which is a protected area.

Weekley explained all septic tanks eventually leak, and in Pine Hills they run right into the Wekiva River.

“The DEP agrees that wastewater management and runoff are the biggest environmental issues in the state of Florida," Weekley said. "We need to replace these old septic tanks before they cause serious harm to local ecosystems.”

Now, Weekley is working on obtaining an additional $2.15 million from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, or elsewhere, to complete the project. He said he's fairly optimistic about the outcome. 

 “We’ve put together the most comprehensive plan we can, and I’m going to continue to pursue as many grant opportunities as possible,” Weekley said. “I want to make this happen for the residents of Pine Hills.”

For more on Pine Hills, the septic-to-sewer initiative and the Pine Hills Neighborhood Improvement District, contact Samuel Weekley at [email protected].

 

 

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Annabelle Sikes is a staff writer at the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She graduated in May 2021 from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in sociology.  Her past...

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