City may expand "water only" line to areas in North Cape Coral

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The Cape Coral City Council recently voted to restart the city’s Utilities Expansion Program. Now, one council member wants to take the expansion even further.

In recent months, the city council agreed to restart the UEP in the areas known as Southeast 6, Southeast 7, North 1, and North 2. Now, council member Kevin McGrail wants to add “water only” expansion in the areas surrounding the North Cape RO Water Plant.

Since built, the $120 million water plant has been a hotly debated topic in the city. Some believe the plant was a vital investment in the city’s future by providing enough water when the city reaches build out. Others feel the plant an unnecessary expense at the time, and will be unneeded for many years to come. Regardless of the argument, McGrail says, it is time, the city starts seeing a return on its investment, “Ever since the RO plant has gone online it has been seriously underutilized.”

Under McGrail’s proposal, areas Northeast 4 and Northeast 6, would see the installation of city water lines, adding over 13,000 lots to the city’s water system. The installation of sewer lines would not be included under the proposal.

See map of proposed "water only" installation

McGrail also said another benefit of adding those properties to the city's water system is the financial relief it will bring to those ratepayers already on the system.

Another factor to McGrail’s decision to bring the proposal forward is the health and safety of residents in those areas. The city would have the ability to add 638 fire hydrants to those areas by adding the water lines, “Firefighters would no longer have to use pump trucks in those areas of the North Cape.”

Currently North 4 and 6 have a density of 30%, making it possible to add the water lines to those areas. However, there are some concerns in bringing the UEP to those two areas at this time, “This council has decided to move forward with SE 6 & 7, and North 1 & 2. This project will take staff away from that project,” said council member Marty McClain. “This is something that is going to basically muddy the water.”

When discussing cost to property owners, McGrail said he expects the cost to be between $4,000 and $5,000 for a 10,000 square foot lot. That would include the assessment as well as the impact fee, “It should be less than the cost to put in a well and a whole house RO system,” said Cape Coral’s Utilities Director Jeff Pearson, during his presentation to the council.

While the cost, of adding “water lines only” is far less than bringing in water and sewer, Mayor John Sullivan argued that piece-working the UEP is not the right path to take, “A lot of people have already paid for the well and house RO system. If you are going to put in utilities, then we should put in the whole shooting match and not put these residents through the UEP twice.”

McGrail responded that based on his research, due to density and projected growth, the two areas would not be ready for sewer line installation for another 10 to 20 years, “It would cost $120 million to $150 million to expand the sewage plant to accommodate adding the North Cape. I do not think anyone is interested in taking on those types of costs for many years.”

The council also discussed the method of payment regarding impact fees. The city estimates the impact fees to be between $1,500 to $2,300 depending on if irrigation lines would be included in the installation. Currently, impact fees have only been billed to improved lots, or lots that have a home or building on the property, and only charged when building on the property takes place. With only 30% of the 13,436 properties in North 4 & 6 being improved, some on council feel the only way to make the expansion into these areas work is by putting the impact fees into the upfront costs and charging for all properties in those areas regardless of being improved or unimproved.

An idea that council member Chris Chulakes-Leetz vehemently opposed, “This council shot down the infill assessments in November, and now staff wants to roll the impact fees into upfront costs. Our City Attorney better look at hiring additional staff, because that action would open the city up to multiple lawsuits.”

In the end, the majority of the council seemed open for further discussion on the idea, but decided to wait until the Burton Rate Study numbers become available to get further details on the cost to the property owners. Pearson says the study results should be available in July, and he will be prepared to present the findings when the council comes back from its summer break.