Imagine if you did not have access to City water, your well water had become undrinkable and you had to fill jugs for drinking water at a nearby church. Imagine if you did not have City sewer lines, and in times of heavy rainfall your septic system failed and backed up into your home. Imagine the environmental and impact and health hazard when out of desperation, raw sewage is piped to a drainage ditch. These issues are routine in Larsen, a community located between St. Augustine Road and Phillips Highway, north of Powers.
Although I had walked door to door in this neighborhood during my campaign, and had visited the neighborhood park several times to check on maintenance issues, I was completely unaware of the severity of the problems these residents face until I was invited to a recent neighborhood meeting. They described the issues with drainage, water and sewer and that they had been working with the Mayor’s Office and JEA for some time. Tony Hill had toured the community on behalf of the Mayor’s office and JEA had produced a map showing the location of current water lines along main roads nearby.
I mentioned at the neighborhood meeting that the capital improvement budget schedule attached to the Mayor’s budget reflected a balance of $1.6 million dollars in an old project named Pine Forest/Larsen drainage. Perhaps it had not been completed for some reason and work could resume. As I began to investigate, Public Works and the budget office reported that the number was incorrect and that the balance was only several hundred thousand dollars (a significant error- another example of my personal frustration with our accounting system on capital projects- see other articles on the topic). Still, that should provide some improvement to a system that is not functioning properly. I have asked John Pappas, the director of our stormwater utility and Jim Robinson, the Director of Public Works to investigate why the prior project is not working as intended in this area and initiate the required maintenance or modifications.
The drinking water issue has revealed a major gap in City planning, budgeting and coordination. I raised the issue with JEA, our water and sewer utility, and they responded that they do not budget or plan for building new water lines in existing neighborhoods. New lines are installed by developers in new communities. Public Works does not have water lines anywhere in the capital improvement budget or planning process for their department, either. The St. Johns River Water Management District continues to study water supply and encourages transition from private wells to City water for drinking water, acknowledging the declining quality of water available in many private wells. I have asked our Housing and Neighborhoods Department to look at funding improvements such as these through Community Development Block Grants. We will not solve this for Larsen overnight, but I am hopeful that we will soon begin the process of providing safe drinking water to neighborhoods throughout our City, a block or street at a time.
You can count on one thing. As long as I am in office, this topic will not be swept under the rug and ignored.