A project that's been in the works for 15 years reached a major milestone Friday when the Rincon Point community began making the transition to a sewer system from septic tanks.
After more than a decade of environmental review, lawsuits and complex planning processes, the on-site septic systems that now service 72 homes will be removed, eliminating the source of many of the neighborhood's water-quality issues, including septic runoff that was reaching the ocean.
Construction on the project is scheduled to start in September and will continue through the first half of 2014.
To mark the occasion, the environmental advocacy group Heal the Ocean held a celebratory groundbreaking ceremony Friday near the entrance gate to Rincon Point at Bates Road.
The project was conceived 15 years ago, when surfers began to complain they were getting sick after surfing in the area.
Investigation revealed that septic runoff from Rincon Lagoon, which is lined with homes, was ending up in the ocean.
That study was commissioned by Heal the Ocean, which had been formed in response to the issue.
Heal the Ocean executive director Hillary Hauser said Thursday that the nonprofit organization was elated to see the project finally cleared to begin.
"It's beyond wonderful to see it come full circle," she said. "It's a day we've been waiting for so, so long."
The project is the last piece of the South Coast Beach Communities Septic to Sewer Project, which also included Padaro Lane, Sandyland and Sand Point in Carpinteria.
Hauser commended the generosity of the Rincon Point homeowners, who not only paid their share of the building process but also legal fees and the costs for environmental review.
She said surfers had demonized Rincon homeowners until they met with them and discovered the residents wanted sewer systems, as well.
Residents with septic systems often face back-ups and other problems, but "they can use their plumbing now" after the change, Hauser said.
The Carpinteria Sanitary District also played a key role in the project.
“Finally, we have reached the key milestone events that will allow us to proceed with the implementation phase of this long-awaited septic to sewer conversion project.” said Craig Murray, the district's general manager.
Homeowners voted in favor of the project and agreed to pay more than $80,000 per parcel to undertake the conversion.
The project was put out to bid in May, and on Aug. 6 the Carpinteria Sanitary District Board of Directors entered into a contract with Santa Barbara-based Tierra Contracting for construction of the infrastructure.
The district said Rincon Point's wastewater will be transported to the district’s existing sewer collection system on Carpinteria Avenue.
Bids were also received for the second phase of the project, which involves construction of a low-pressure sewer system within the residential community. A construction contract for the sewer installation work will be considered Tuesday.
“This has been a long time coming," said Jeff Moorhouse, the district's board president.
"The district has been working toward this point since the late 1990s and the actions taken on August 6 are an affirmation of our commitment to the environment and the health of our local beaches and ocean."