With a unanimous vote, the city of Daphne took steps Monday to provide public sewer service to approximately 96 homes in the Whispering Pines community.
The council approved a resolution to allow Mayor Dane Haygood to apply for a $450,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Approximately 96 homes in the Whispering Pines community are part of a 200-home group that does not have access to Daphne’s public sewer system. Most of the homes are in low-to-moderate-income areas.
“We have had a lot of discussions about it and we are working on ways to fund this project,” Councilman Randy Fry said. “Hopefully we will be successful in securing the grant.”
During the city’s budgeting process in October, officials expected to pay approximately $1.5- to $2 million to extend sewer service to this portion of the city. The CDBG grant would provide $450,000 in funding and the city would pay $1 million in matching contributions, for a total of $1,450,000.
Public Works Director Richard Johnson said the bulk of the city’s portion would come from funds that were set aside for sewer service when the city refinanced its bonds last year. He said in 2011 the city connected homes on Highway 64 from 98 to Pollard Road to the public sewer.
“Over the last 15 years the city has had a goal of making sure that everyone has access to public sewer service,” Johnson said. “This is something that this council and several previous councils have been very good about.”
At the council’s May 26 meeting, Grant Management LLC writer and administrator Cara Stallman asked the city to consider the CDBG grant. Based in Spanish Fort, Grant Management LLC provides grant writing and grant management services to municipalities, counties, nonprofits and utilities boards with a specialty in funding for infrastructure projects like drainage upgrades and water and sewer upgrades.
The city’s CDBG application deadline is June 15.
At the May 26 meeting, Whispering Pines Road resident Orrie Smith Jr. approached the council and urged it to make a decision about sewering that portion of the city. Smith said his family moved to the area in 1946. He said he is concerned that his 39-year-old septic system could be a public health hazard.
“Today it is working just fine,” he said. “However, it is an accident waiting to happen. Heavy rains, storms and hurricanes cause the system to work very slow. Thank God we have not yet had a sewage backup. We need the sewer service because I don’t want to cause a health problem in our community or harm the environment.”
Victoria Mitchell has lived in her Pollard Road home since 1997. She said other subdivisions and apartment complexes nearby have been connected to the public sewer and asked why her community had not. She was also concerned about the public health ramifications of having so many old septic systems in the area.
“We haven’t had any backups yet but that’s because I’m constantly doing maintenance to prevent it from happening,” she said. “If we were allotted the same privileges the other citizens of Daphne have to be connected to the public sewage system, it would be a lot better for us. We should have the same privilege as everyone else.”
Juniper Court resident Dr. Pam Henson sent a letter to Council President Tommie Conaway on May 24 asking why Whispering Pines residents had not been given access to the public sewer. Conaway represents District 1 on the council, including Whispering Pines and surrounding areas.
The city made an effort to apply for a CDBG grant for public sewer in 2014, but Johnson said the timing wasn’t right and not enough Whispering Pines residents were on board with the project at the time.
“I moved into my home on Juniper Court in January of 2000 and within a month, I had to have the septic tank pumped,” Henson’s letter read. “At the time, sewer service was being installed on streets in the area surrounding Juniper Court. I inquired, but was never given a reason why Juniper Court was excluded.”
Henson’s letter said she had her septic tank pumped once a year until 2009, when her problems became worse. Water began to pool in and around her septic tank in the yard when she would use her washing machine or after heavy rains.
“This has continued over the last six years,” she said. “I finally decided the washing machine could only be utilized once a week.
“We desperately need public sewer in the Whispering Pines community,” Henson’s letter continued. “Some of my neighbors have had sewage back into their homes. Many of us have had other problems with our septic tanks and we very much want to connect to the public sewer in the city. Why haven’t we been offered the same service as everyone else? It will make Daphne a stronger community and a better place to live.”
Any Whispering Pines homes connected to the public sewer would be served by Daphne Utilities, which serves approximately 10,746 residential accounts and has board members appointed by the city.
“They can’t apply for this kind of grant but the city can, and upon completion of the project the city will turn it over to them,” Johnson said.
The Daphne Utilities Board includes Chairman Bob Segalla, Vice Chairman Fenton Jenkins and Secretary/Treasurer Randy Fry, who is also a city councilman. Mayor Dane Haygood and Billy Mayhand are also board members.
Daphne Utilities, Park City Water and Belforest Water provide “potable water” services in the city, but only Daphne Utilities and Baldwin County Sewer Service provide sewer. Johnson said Baldwin County Sewer Service serves homes that were previously in county land that had been annexed into the city of Daphne.