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Updated: 07/15/2017 08:30:01AM

Officials: Spring Lake sewer plant has to be replaced

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SEBRING — Spring Lake Improvement District will have to remove its wastewater treatment plant and replace it before 2018.

The district is on track to meet that requirement from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Supervisors have approved a 7.5-acre wooded site at the east end of Spring Lake between Duane Palmer Boulevard and U.S. 98, where the plant will be obscured by buffers, berms and vegetation, district officials said. Project opponent Bob Fromhartz still questions its capacity, cost and the transparency of the process.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Fromhartz said the $2.58-million plant would lower property values and increase assessments. District Manager Joe DeCerbo said it wouldn’t.

DeCerbo told the Highlands News-Sun Friday that the district plans to put the plant 420 feet south of Duane Palmer Boulevard and 45 feet off U.S. 98, shrouding it with vegetation.

“We’re going to berm and tree it at U.S. 98,” DeCerbo said.

The district can either ask the DEP for a 30-year, no-interest loan from the State Revolving Fund or ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund a 45 percent from a grant and 55 percent from a 40-year, 2-percent interest rate loan, he said. Supervisors will get to decide between the two in August.

DeCerbo also said paying for the plant is not connected to residents’ assessments, unless or until they hook up to sewers. Most homes are on septic tanks.

DeCerbo said he wants to promote commercial development on the highway, almost non-existent since the improvement district was founded in 1971. State Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, who was at Wednesday’s meeting, sponsored a bill this year to fund sewer line extensions on U.S. 98. It was cut from the state budget. DeCerbo turned and asked Pigman if he would support a 2018-19 budget request for sewer lines. Pigman said yes.

Fromhartz also questioned the 80,000-gallon-per-day capacity of the new plant. The current plant is permitted for 100,000 gallons per day with just 325 connections, but plans for the new plant would increase connections to 1,500 by 2027, he said.

Assistant District Manager Clay Shrum said the current plant only runs at 25 percent capacity. The previous owner got a permit to increase the capacity for reuse irrigation, but it wasn’t designed for that and failed.

Since taking it over, the district has spent $100,000 to keep the plant running and can’t expand it. The state permit runs out in 2018. DEP wants it replaced, Shrum said.

Fromhartz also said the district did not inform residents about the new plant’s location, but Supervisor Leon Van said he found it hard to believe “no one knew.”

DeCerbo said few residents access information posted on the district website or read meeting and workshop notices in water bills. He said the district keeps a public records room and his door is “open,” but people don’t come in.

Board Chairman Bill Lawens lives two blocks from the plant and supports it.

He said Florida wants sewers to protect water quality.

“The state will eventually require sewer systems,” Lawens said. “(Then) they can go to Tallahassee and complain.”

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