water quality (copy) (copy)

An egret catches a fish in Shem Creek. The creek is among Mount Pleasant waterways impacted by failing septic tanks. (file/Grace Beahm/Staff

MOUNT PLEASANT — Some residents with septic tanks could get financial assistance to help with the cost of connecting to Mount Pleasant Waterworks sewer lines under a proposal Town Council will consider.

The quick goal would be to connect dozens of Mount Pleasant residents to sewer lines that already run in front of their homes. A town ordinance requires such connections, but connecting is expensive and the town has not been enforcing the regulation.

Town Administrator Eric DeMoura said it's another example of problems that began with state government and ended up in the lap of town and cities.

"They approve (septic systems), 40 or 50 years ago, then walk away and look to municipalities to fix the problems," he said.

East of the Cooper River there are nearly 1,100 properties with septic systems, some of which have failed and are polluting local waterways. Most of those properties are in unincorporated Charleston County, not in Mount Pleasant, but are surrounded by the town.

Mount Pleasant Waterworks wants to get all of the properties connected to sewer lines and to sewage treatment but the $4,990 impact fee the utility charges to connect — plus the cost of service lines from a house to the main sewer line along the street — are a financial roadblock.

The easiest properties to address are those already in the town that have sewer lines running past their properties, ready to connect to homes. There are 63 of those. They could connect to public sewer right away by paying the necessary fees.

"We are prioritizing who we can get off (septic) quickest," said Dionna Ebeling, communications director for MPW.

The financial assistance idea amounts to MPW asking the town to contribute $50,000 yearly, which could be used to pay half the impact fee for properties connecting and potentially tied to the owners' ability to pay.

The $50,000 would come from money MPW collects from customers and turns over to the town yearly from a 1 percent fee on water and sewer bills.

The council members on the Water Supply Committee — Mark Smith, Joe Bustos and Gary Santos — unanimously recommended the financial assistance plan to the full council at a meeting Monday.

"It's time to do something," Smith said.

Mayor Linda Page, who was in the audience at the committee meeting, suggested MPW could make connecting easier by waiving the impact fee for town residents who already have sewer lines running past their properties.

Ebeling said that wouldn't be fair to other customers who have paid the fee which goes toward the utility's costs for extending water and sewer infrastructure. She said the utility could potentially offer a financing plan to customers.

The first 63 properties would be the easiest. A second group of 64 properties are also in the town but MPW would need to spend more than $5 million on sewer line work.

A third group of 58 properties have sewer lines ready to connect but are part of unincorporated Charleston County and aren't required to tap in.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.