Some residents have already paid to install expensive reverse-osmosis systems. Connecting the community to city water would involve a special assessment estimated at $1,700 per year per property.
There was no disagreement at a community meeting Oct. 2 that there are water quality problems in the Willow Woods community of the Hammock, which relies on well water. But there was much disagreement on the source of the problem, and whether bringing in water lines from the city of Palm Coast is the right fix.
The meeting had been called by the Flagler County administration, which had floated the city water proposal in a Sept. 23 letter sent out to local homeowners inviting their attendance.
"When this is all sorted out, I can promise you one thing: There will be some people in this room happy, and there will be some unhappy. ... But we will ferret out all the issues, and we will be responsive to these differences. We can’t make everybody happy, but we can make everybody heard, and we’re going do that."
—JERRY CAMERON, county administrator
"The proposed project would consist of the City of Palm Coast providing a water distribution system to your neighborhood that not only provides connections for consumer consumption to each property, but would also include fire hydrants for the protection of life and property," stated the letter, which was signed by Cameron.
The sticking point with the proposal is money: The new system, if installed, would be paid for with a special assessment on local properties. It would come out to an estimated $1,700 per property per year, for 20 years, county Special Projects Coordinator Michael Esposito told residents at the meeting.
Those numbers elicited groans and guffaws from audience members.
"If this move forward … am I stuck with it whether or not I use this?" resident Courtney VandeBunte asked. She has already paid thousands of dollars to install a reverse osmosis system, she said, and does not need city water.
The answer was yes — if the project is approved.
That's a steep price, residents said, especially for the many families that have already paid to have special water systems installed.
One woman said she and her husband had just put a lot of money into their own water system. "We’ve put the money in already; we are going be paying for our kids to go to college before we’re even done paying off our student loans — we do not need another 150 dollars a month bill for the foreseeable future," she said.
But other residents said they're suffering with water so poor that they don't even like to use it for showers.
Resident Julie Coolidge said she built her dream home in the neighborhood with her husband in 2010, installed a water system, and has now had to replace two pumps, each in a separate well.
"The water quality continues to deteriorate," she said. "I cannot dig another well. … On an even more serious note, there are still no fire hydrants," so if there is a fire, residents would have to wait on pumpers to bring water to the scene.
"We can't shower, can't run the dishwasher — it's awful," said resident Vita Nausedaite.
Underlying many residents' frustrations was the suspicion that the ongoing construction of a neighboring KB Homes development, Las Casitas, has caused much of the recent degradation they've seen in well water quality — and that fixing it is therefore a burden that should not be carried by residents.
"This is happening because of Las Casitas," one resident said, "and $1,700 a year for 20 years is three college tuitions for my three toddlers."
Residents said they had noted that their water began gurgling and spurting out of their taps right around when the Las Casitas development began dewatering (that is, removing groundwater from the construction area), and built and filled a retention pond.
One man said the link between the construction and the water degradation had been "painfully obvious."
"They should step up," he said. "They've got a heck of a lot more money than us."
Another resident, Lincoln Soule, said he'd spoken to a hydrologist about the issue, and was told that dewatering can lead to saltwater intrusion.
"They also said that it’s almost impossible to prove that our compromised water was caused but he dewatering, and so they were just saying, 'Look, city water is going to help you,'" Soule said.
"We're not against city water. We’re against paying $34,000 for city water when it is not our fault. … That's not a good solution. You, as our leaders, as our elected officials, we need to come up with something that can actually help us, instead of hurt our wallets."
— COURTNEY VANDEBUNTE
"We're not against city water," VandeBunte said to the county officials. "We’re against paying $34,000 for city water when it is not our fault. … The issue is there are people here who need it tonight, and you're talking like two years down the road we're going to get something and we're going to have to pay $34,000 for it. That's not a good solution. You, as our leaders, as our elected officials, we need to come up with something that can actually help us, instead of hurt our wallets."
Cameron said the county will investigate the issue. He also noted that if the area is placed on city water and gets fire hydrants, its Insurance Services Office rating for fire protection, or ISO rating, would improve, potentially leading to a reduction in homeowners insurance rates of more than $1,000 per year.
"When this is all sorted out, I can promise you one thing: There will be some people in this room happy, and there will be some unhappy," Cameron said. "The important thing as we work through this is respectful dialogue. That gets the best answer every time. ... But we will ferret out all the issues, and we will be responsive to these differences. We can’t make everybody happy, but we can make everybody heard, and we’re going do that."