By Jessica Tuggle
SEBASTIAN -- The health of the Indian River Lagoon weighs heavy on the minds of government and community leaders, and Sebastian has created a new grant program to help taxpayers and prevent more damage to the lagoon's ecosystem.
The Sebastian Community Redevelopment Agency, made up of members of the Sebastian City Council, has created a grant program that would help property owners in the city's redevelopment district cover the cost of moving from a septic system to the county's wastewater treatment system, thus taking away potential pollutants from entering the lagoon.
The agency allocated $10,000 for the program for the 2013 fiscal year during their Jan. 9 meeting.
City manager Al Minner said the city's heritage has been to preserve and protect the lagoon. The lagoon has both historic and economic value to the region, as the home of the first national wildlife refuge, Pelican Island Wildlife Refuge.
In a report, it was estimated the lagoon has an annual economic impact of more than $3.7 billion.
Studies by the St. John's River Water Management District, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and the Ocean Research and Conservation Association show approximately 32,000 acres of seagrass meadows have died in the Indian River Lagoon since 2010.
The exact reason for the condition of the lagoon ecosystem is unknown, but scientifically-accepted causes include changes in water salinity and nutrient overloading, Mr. Minner said in a report.
"The river is a vital link to economic prosperity in this area," Mr. Minner said.
By offering a financial incentive to move to the county sewer system, the city hopes to prohibit further "blight" and establish a good way to keep the lagoon healthy, he said.
The special district was originally created in 1995 for an area east of the FEC railroad right-of-way to the eastern city limits. In 2003, the redevelopment plan was expanded to include the "Sebastian Boulevard Triangle," where County Road 512 splits into east bound and west bound lanes. It also includes some of the industrial land south of County Road 512, according to the city of Sebastian website.
The grant program can provide up to $5,000 to qualified property owners of both business and residential units operating and located in the boundaries of the redevelopment district that currently use septic systems.
The $10,000 grant won't go very far in covering the cost of converting from a septic system, Mr. Minner said.
A residential hookup could cost between $5,000 and $15,000, and a commercial hookup could cost more, he said.
The program is just a tool that the city is looking at to make a small difference in the health of the lagoon, and people who are interested can contact city hall for more information. Applications will be available at Sebastian City Hall or the Sebastian River Area Chamber of Commerce. City staff can also help interested citizens with questions before applying for the grant.
For more information about the Sebastian community redevelopment agency, call Mr. Minner at (772) 388-8203, or visit www.cityofsebastian.org/cra.