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Report for 11/03/2014

AMENDMENT 1 IS NOTHING MORE THAN A SLUSH FUND.  Amendment 1 is turning out to be a $20 billion dollar slush fund for special interests, counties, and bureaucrats to spend, and spend and spend.  And, just like in Washington D.C., there will be debt, much spending, no accountability for results or intended purpose, and paid for with taxpayer dollars.  VOTE NO ON AMENDMENT 1.

Below is an example of how that works.  Before you read the rest of this, remember what The Sludge Report has always advocated – (1) sound science, (2) affordable solutions, a (3) measurable return on investment. Common sense dictates these three points should be satisfied any time taxpayer money is spent.  It’s called accountability!

The Example:  In northwest Orange County, 380 homes on septic systems are slated to be converted to sewers.  The claim is it will “significantly reduce” nitrogen in Wekiva Springs. The cost of conversion is $6-8 Million dollars.  Homeowners pay nothing for the cost of installation. “Cooperative Funding” comes from the area’s Water Management District ($4.5 million, Orange County Utilities ($1.5 million), Orange County ($1.5 million).  All funds are tax dollars gathered from state and local sources.  

Without question, NONE of the three common sense goals stated above are met in this project.  But, wait.  It gets worse.  According to information gathered at two separate meetings last week, this little project is a “pilot project”, a trial balloon for future projects just like it.   In one of those meetings, we learned a “springs protection” bill just like last year’s bill (SB 1576) will be introduced in the 2015 legislature.  It is planning to use Amendment 1 bond money retrofit the other 2.5 million state-wide septic systems in the state.  Amendment 1 allows funds to be spent to protect water quality, and the drum-beat about septic systems impacting water quality has been relentless,

What’s the science behind this pilot project?  One quick grab sample water test, performed seven years ago on one home in all of Orange County.  That’s the science.  The engineering company’s report on this test specifically stated, one sample should not be utilized to make policy decisions, and site specific, more robust testing should be done. Will that be done?  Will the powers that be spend a few thousand dollars on a scientific sampling to make sure $8 million is going to deliver the promised “significant nitrogen reduction”?  We have asked for that. So far, there is no commitment to do so. Will the same ONE sample be used to justify retrofitting the entire state?  Until we hear otherwise, the answer is, yes, one sample will stand as adequate scientific evidence. What’s pathetic about this is the one test did not demonstrate a significant problem.  So it’s a little hard to believe “significant improvement” will be achieved after the $8 million is spent and gone.  Let’s call this misrepresentation.

Is the sewer solution affordable?  Some legislators and environmental groups have said, it’s “common sense” that the springs must be saved from the ravages of nasty septic systems no matter what the cost. What is the cost of putting in sewers based on the hope nitrogen will be reduced?  The cost is $1,250 per pound of nitrogen removal.  Even if you believe what we have heard stated, “something must be done”, or “everyone must do their part”, there are other solutions we know have been flatly rejected for consideration that would lower the cost to $250 per pound.  Do taxpayers need a BMW solution when a bicycle will get you where you want to go?  Let’s call this wasteful.

What about Return on Investment.  It can’t be measured.  Period.  Without sufficient, site specific,  preliminary groundwater testing, there is no benchmark – no way to measure whether the dollars spent are actually having an impact on the nitrogen levels in the springs.  It’s a classic joke – “to be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.”  $8 million dollars and no one will be able to demonstrate the springs will be better for it. Let’s call this unaccountable.

The Town of Suwanee already did a project like this. No preliminary testing was done before they forced canal-front homes to abandon their septic systems and go on sewers.  Everyone assumed they were the source of bacterial and nutrient pollution.  They built a whole sewer plant and hooked up 780 homes.  They spent millions and promised results. 13 years later, real scientific testing was done.  The tests proved conclusively the septic systems were not the source of the nitrogen in the canals or in the adjacent river.  If no one lost their jobs or elected positions over that one, they should have.  We try to tell our children that if they don’t learn from their mistakes, they are doomed to repeat them.  This little retrofit pilot project in NW Orange County is a repeat.  Anyone listening?  No?  Why not?  Wasting taxpayer money must not be important, or there is another goal.  If Amendment 1 passes, the only legacy that we will give our children is a debt. 

Another little astounding fact we learned. The latest news on this pilot project is these residents are not getting real sewers.  Instead, they will get an electrically powered pump attached to the existing septic tank.  The contents of the tank will be pumped to a feeder line hooked to the sewer line.  It’s a perpetual pumping system!  The residents will still have to maintain a tank, and a special pump maintenance fee will be added to their new sewer bill.  The media loves to use the phrase “leaking” septic tanks when publicly convicting septic system owners for nitrogen pollution.  HELLO!! This pseudo-solution is not only monstrously expensive, it keeps those “awful leaky septic tanks” in place.  Let’s call this convoluted!

Vote No on Amendment 1.  If you thought this money was going to buy recreation land for your children to enjoy, you need to be aware a big chunk of the money may well be spent on more convoluted and unjustifiable projects like this.   

A totally logical explanation of why Amendment 1 should be resoundingly defeated.  Bad Policy.  Bad outcome.  Bad altogether. Here is an interesting policy brief from Florida State University.


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