Some of the roughly 1,000 septic tanks in Oakland were installed as early as the 1950s, and are failing. Out on State Road 50, there are just a few businesses, none of them major restaurants, because there is no sewer system in place that can handle the volume of waste that food establishments produce. There are no hotels, either, because of the size of the drain field needed for the high traffic this facility would process.
“There’s very little you can do when limited to septic,” Town Manager Dennis Foltz said.
The process to bring sewer into the town was actually started five years ago when officials hired a consulting firm to create a sanitary sewer master plan for the build-out of the town’s entire Joint Planning Area. The result is an approximately $50 million system that could take decades to fully implement in all areas of Oakland.
A wastewater group with Foltz, Public Works Director Mike Parker, an engineer and residents Frank Merritt and Warren Griffin met every Thursday for five years, agonizing over the details of upgrading to sewer.
“In the big picture, when you want to take a trip somewhere, you have to spend money before you even get there,” Foltz said.
“As we have invested in this, we're making sure we're taking little steps,” Foltz said. “If we get money coming in, we make sure we can handle the financing of that, of paying those things off. We're being careful, but we're being aggressive. The reason we met so often is that we always knew where we were and where we were going.
“Frank is a banker, Warren is an engineer, and they were just a godsend.”
WHAT'S BEEN DONE
When officials realized they couldn't build their own treatment plant because of cost, space and Wekiva Basin standards that have to be met, they spoke with surrounding municipalities about the possibility of contracting with them. The only one willing or able to was Clermont, so an agreement was signed that would allow the neighboring city to handle wastewater treatment up to 1.1 million gallons per day.
“Then we had to figure out how to get it there,” Foltz said.
So the town entered into another agreement with a private development to build a force main that would connect the town and city. This and a series of lift stations along S.R. 50 will allow all future phases to connect to this first-phase infrastructure for wastewater discharge.
Phase 1 can be looked at as the system’s “spine” for everything to connect to, and the wastewater will either flow down into the line or be pumped back up into it.
This phase will also give the town the boost it needs to achieve economic development along the Highway 50 corridor. There are about 207 acres of vacant land currently zoned as commercial and industrial that would benefit from the installation.
The opportunity to build hotels and restaurants “would not only spur construction jobs but also creates sustainable jobs from the openings of numerous new businesses,” according to a master plan created by Weaver Boos Consultants. A marketing brochure the town prepared and issued to potential funding sources stated about 5,174 jobs could be generated.
This plan report, made three years ago, stated an estimate of what each phase would cost — including design, permitting, land purchase and contingency — but since that time, inflation and unanticipated details have increased the total project price to the $50 million mark, Foltz said. For example, it was estimated that Phase 1 would cost $2.45 million, but that price tag is actually $4.9 million.
The final amount could go higher, as the cost of each phase will be updated closer to construction.
In 2014, the Florida Legislature appropriated $250,000 toward the $550,000 regional lift station that is currently under construction and will be completed in early 2016, Foltz said.
"The implementation of sewer in our Highway 50 commercial corridor is the final piece of our planning coming development, and it enables diverse economic development." — Oakland Mayor Kathy Stark
Once funding is established, the estimated timeframe for design for most of the phases is nine to 12 months, and construction in some cases could take up to a full year. The second recommended phase is to build a domestic wastewater collection system in the town’s historic district, between Walker and Jefferson streets. This area is the most eligible to receive outside funding and grants for infrastructure improvements, the report said.
It further states that these are smaller-lot neighborhoods where existing septic tank systems are greatly inefficient.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “septic tank systems are used in approximately 25 percent of U.S. homes and an estimated 10 to 20% of those systems malfunction each year, causing pollution problems and public health threats.”
The objective of Phase A is to provide service to residents and businesses north of S.R. 50 and south of Oakland Avenue. Two lift stations constructed in the first two phases would be utilized in this phase.
Phase B would extend services for properties north of Oakland Avenue.
In Phase C, services would be extended to residents south of S.R. 50. Because of geographical challenges, five lift stations are proposed in this phase.
Phase D would extend the services outside the town limits into unincorporated Orange County. And Phase E would provide service to residents of Deer Island should they decide to annex into the town.
Parker said the Marathon station/Kangaroo or ABC Bus Co. could be the first existing businesses to connect to the sewer system. The first residential properties on sewer will be Oakland Trails, a Meritage development planned on J.W. Jones Road. The first new businesses along the S.R. 50 corridor could be in by the end of 2016.
New restaurants, hotels and retail stores would spur more folks to visit Oakland and gives the town an opportunity to show off its natural and environmental assets.
“We also are sitting in an advantageous position with ecotourism,” Foltz said. “We have employed a marketing firm to help with our branding. We are planning an expansion of our trail system so we can have people come here and enjoy this without a car. They can get to Clermont and Winter Garden and Oakland Nature Preserve and enjoy the real Florida.”
“The implementation of sewer in our Highway 50 commercial corridor is the final piece of our planning coming development, and it enables diverse economic development,” Oakland Mayor Kathy Stark said. “We have updated our ordinances so that development will complement our town and preserve our identity at the same time. There is a real possibility for eco-tourism with our nature preserve, scenic byways, bike trails and Lake Apopka.”
“We are so blessed with a group of elected officials that are open-minded, care deeply for this community and its future and are very knowledgeable and supportive going through this process,” Foltz said. “I see this as a 21st century community with our technology and services, but one that maintains its 19th-century charm.”
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].