More than 700 residents in the southern part of Mobile County will have the option to tie in to a new sewer system free of charge through the second round of the $250 million Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP).

Though the federal government sponsors the program, grant consultant Sara W. Kindt said the $58 million coming to Alabama isn’t the taxpayers’ money per se, but rather royalties paid in by oil and gas companies operating in federal waters.

Alabama joins Mississippi, Louisiana, California, Alaska and Texas, which will all receive money through CIAP this year.

“The program is exclusively environmental in nature,” Kindt said. “There are five authorized uses of a CIAP grant. One of those is the ‘mitigation of damage to fish, wildlife or natural resources.’”

In Alabama, Baldwin and Mobile counties are receiving a majority of the funding — about $14.1 million and $17.4 million respectively. Both counties are using the monies to support projects aimed at preventing pollution or repairing damage resulting from previous pollution.

This issue in Mobile County is one of water quality, which is directly related to the southern part of the county’s rural makeup and its growth in population over the last 30 years.

Because of their rural landscape and economically depressed nature, a significant portion of residents in cities like Bayou la Batre, Theodore, Tillman’s Corner, Fowl River, Coden and other areas south of Mobile use septic tanks to dispose of waste.

The population of Mobile County has jumped up about 25 percent since 1970, which has only served to increase the number of tanks going into the ground.

“Everybody knows most of this area is wet,” Kindt told a packed house at a June 12 community meeting in Coden. “When you have a high water table and you put a liquid into the ground, it starts flowing into the ground water. If you have a septic tank, that raw sewage will eventually seep into ground water.”

That means free sewer hookups For 400 customers of the Mobile County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority (MCWSFPA) and 345 customers of the Utilities Board of the City of Bayou la Batre.

Both utility service providers have been approved to receive CIAP funds, via two mirroring grants, each of which is worth $6.2 million.

The grant funds would cover the cost of the nearly 800 hookups and the addition to new sewer lines running from Coden to the newly constructed wastewater treatment plant in Bayou la Batre.

That $20 million facility is already operational and according to Sylvia Raley, president of the utilities board, it’s only operating at around 26 percent of its capacity.

“Right now Bayou la Batre is using about 800,000 gallons of the 3 million the plant can process,” Raley said. “I think with the numbers we’ve done, the new hookups will add another 700,000 gallons, which will put us at about half capacity.”

Raley said she didn’t think processing the extra sewage would increase the cost operating the facility anymore than would be offset by the increased revenue from a stream of new customers.

The Bayou la Batre sewer treatment facility was critical in the city’s response to alleged pollution violations at its old sewage plant, which was more than a 32 years old before it was decommissioned. At the center of those allegations was the unsafe disposal of excess wastewater in Portersville Bay by the utilities board and various seafood companies on the bayou.

“We don’t dump into Portersville,” Raley said. “We send our treated material 5,000 feet out from shore.”

Only Bayou la Batre and Mobile County Water customers are eligible for the free hookups, which include the installation of a grinder pump and connection to the new sewer lines.

Kindt said because the project is still in its engineering phase, the cost of connecting to the sewer system without grant funding and the service costs have yet to be determined.

“We just simply don’t know what that cost is yet, but I can (say) it will be extremely competitive with other systems in this area,” she said. “There is a three-year warranty for the pumps that are installed and after that time the county will be able to service those pumps.”

Kindt also said generators would be able to power the pumps in case of long-term power outages, or hurricanes.

Despite the option to join the sewer system, it’s not a requirement yet. However, Kindt did say the grant requires those participating to continue sewer service if they tap into the lines and get rid of their current septic system.

Old septic tanks will be plugged and filled in, an operation that will be performed by the MCWSFPA. A bypass will also be installed so that the tank can continue to be used while residents are waiting for the sewer system to come online.

Kindt said every home within the MCWSFPA’s service areas would be considered for the free hookups, but exactly how grant recipients will be selected still isn’t nailed down.

She did say main roads like Highway 188 from Coden to Bayou la Batre would likely be considered first because of their proximity to the sewer lines and branch lines.

The county has also applied for an additional $8 million of RESTORE Act funding, which, if acquired, could add more than 1,000 additional homes to the sewer system at no cost to the families.

The MCWSFPA’s board used a selection committee to award the grant’s engineering, design and inspection contract to Volkert in April.

Joe Summersgill, the water authority’s general manager, said Volkert would receive around 10 percent of the grant total, which comes out to around $620,000.

“We had a panel of engineers and environmental scientists that looked at all the engineering submitted to determine the best the way to go,” Summersgill said. “Volkert put out the bid for the installation of the main lines, but our employees will actually be installing the pumps and filling the septic tanks.”

The project’s design phase is already underway, and with the five-year grant window being shortened to two after complications in the first round of CIAP, Kindt said all of the parties are working to get it moving quickly.

The timeline requires all work to be completed by June of 2016, and Kindt said hook ups to the sewer system wouldn’t likely start until the end of next year.

More information on the statewide CIAP project is available online at outdooralabama.com. The Mobile County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority will also be updating information on its website mocowater.org.