AVON PARK - Facing costly alternatives, city administration is looking into irrigating airport property with effluent, but airport proponents say it could hinder growth and would create a safety hazard.
City Administrator Julian Deleon said the town is only 100,000 gallons away from reaching its effluent processing capacity at the wastewater treatment plant.
Finding a workable and affordable way to increase the effluent capacity is one of the city's biggest challenges, he said.
Deleon explained that the city's wastewater treatment plant is currently operating at 50 percent of its mechanical capacity, but the treated effluent (water) ponds have been down rated in capacity by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The current effluent disposal ponds were down rated from 1.5 million gallons per day to 800,000 per day. Currently 700,000 gallons of effluent is being processed per day.
Deleon said the city had five options, including doing nothing.
Acquiring more land and adding more ponds would require about 35 acres that would have to be soil tested, he said. At the best quoted rate, this option would cost $1.6 million in property costs.
The building of a deep well injection system was explored, but there are no such wells in Highlands County, he said. The test bore would cost $800,000 and the actual project would cost another $3 million.
Upgrading the city's facility to produce reclaimed water for golf course irrigation is another option with an estimated cost of $4.1 million, Deleon said.
Future development where waste water capacity would be needed could be hindered if no action is taken, he noted.
Deleon said city staff recommends the construction of an irrigation field at the city's airport.
This option would utilize the vacant land, up to 190 acres, at the airport for irrigation using treated effluent currently produced at the waste water plant.
The installation of the 14,000 feet of piping from the plant to the airport would cost an estimated $700,000, but the construction work could be performed by city staff for around $450,000, Deleon said.
Deleon sought input from the council so a preliminary design could be prepared to get approval from the FAA and the FDEP.
Citizen comments were against the plan.
Jerry Wise said there is a real concern about having an irrigation field on the airport because it will create hazards.
A field that is irrigated on a daily basis will become a green crop that will attract insects, which will attract birds, he said. Then there will be bird strikes, which will lead to more problems.
"We already have a bird problem out at the airport to some extent," Wise said.
He showed a photograph of a damaged airplane wing.
"That is what bird strike does to the leading edge of a wing and that's one of our ag airplanes," he said. Also, a plane leaving the runway could hit an irrigation riser.
Airport CRA Advisory Board Member George Karamitis said the airport is a "diamond in the rough" and he wished he could be around to see what will happen in years to come.
"If you want to know what water can do all you have to do is drive to the Sebring airport early in the morning and look at the fog created off of the sod farm," he said. "I am not saying yea or nay. I would like to see what the FAA has to say."
Being a former airline pilot and a pilot all his life, Karamitis said he respects what an airport can do for a community and he always likes to see safety first.
Airport CRA Advisory Board Chairman John Barben noted that the advisory board discussed the issue at its meeting last week.
"It got tabled because of the concerns that we had and I didn't realize that it was moving this quick or we would have made a motion on this," he said.
A lot of great things have been going on at the airport, but things have been slow, Barben said. He spoke of a master plan that is nearing completion.
The effluent irrigation plan may hinder future development at the airport, he said.
Council voted unanimously to move forward on developing a preliminary design for an effluent irrigation system on the city's airport property.