By Dan Moffett
Manalapan commissioners are beginning to take a serious look at replacing the town’s septic tanks with a municipal sewer system, and Mayor Keith Waters isn’t trying to shield anybody from how difficult and expensive the conversion could be.
“Short of building this place in the first place, this will be the largest single project the town has ever undergone,” Waters said. “That’s from the time we put sea walls up and did Intracoastal dredging in the 1950s.”
The mayor told commissioners during a Nov. 12 workshop that seeing the project through will be challenging for everyone involved.
“I say this not to be discouraging but just to be accurate,” Waters said. “It’s probably the single most painful process that we’ve ever been through and will make everything else pale in comparison.”
Engineers from Mock Roos & Associates of West Palm Beach told the commission that converting every septic tank in town could take as long as six years — from the project’s conception, to design, to financing, to completion. Construction alone could take four years and require tearing up every street in town at one time or another.
The total cost? Who knows? Depending on what type of sewer system the commissioners choose and whether they include moving or adding other utilities underground while the streets are torn up — such as power lines, fiber-optic cables, natural gas pipes, stormwater drains — that number could be something that climbs as high as $27 million.
Thomas Biggs, Mock Roos executive vice president, recommended moving forward in $2 million to $3 million phases, with most of work scheduled for summertime when the town’s population and traffic decline.
Town Manager Linda Stumpf said it might be possible to cut costs by collaborating on construction contracts with southern neighbors Ocean Ridge and Gulf Stream, which are looking at similar septic conversion projects.
Mayor Pro Tem Jack Doyle said that, with interest rates nearing historic lows, the financing prospects are promising, at least for the near term.
“There isn’t going to be a more receptive market from our perspective,” Doyle said.
Waters said all indications from Tallahassee are that state officials are committed to advancing the removal of septic tanks from Florida’s barrier islands. So Manalapan, sooner or later, will have to deal with sewers.
“Clearly this is coming down the pike,” Waters said, “and we need to get in front of it.”
By unanimous consensus, the commission agreed to hire Mock Roos to produce a detailed analysis of the project’s potential costs, options and financing possibilities. Biggs said it might take as long as six months to complete the analysis.
In other business, the commission will have at least one new member after the March 17 municipal election. Clark Appleby, who has held an at-large seat for six years, will be forced out because of term limits.
Vice Mayor Simone Bonutti, who holds an ocean district seat, and Richard Granara, who represents Point Manalapan, are up for re-election.
The period for candidates to qualify began at noon Nov. 26 and will end at noon Dec. 10.