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Community Foundation of the Lowcountry Awards $500,000 Grant for Project Safe

June 29, 2016

Community Foundation of the Lowcountry ’s board of directors voted to award a $500,000 multi-year grant to the Project SAFE fund. The Community Foundation is beginning a “Connect for Good ” capital campaign to raise the remaining $2.5 million needed to complete the project by June 30, 2020.

Project SAFE (Sewer Access For Everyone) is an initiative to provide grants for public sewer connections to qualified, low-income Hilton Head Island households that still rely on septic systems. Collaborating with the Town of Hilton Head Island and Hilton Head Public Service District (PSD), the Community Foundation is spearheading efforts to raise both awareness of the issue and the dollars needed to connect these homes.

“It ’s important for the community to understand this isn ’t a problem just for homeowners with septic systems, ” Denise Spencer, president and CEO of Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, says. “This problem impacts everyone on Hilton Head Island and beyond. It ’s a health issue when children are playing in backyards with septic system overflow; it ’s an ecological issue when contaminated waste water threatens our waterways, shellfish beds and marine life; and it hurts the Island ’s economy and reputation when tourists bicycling through neighborhoods can literally smell the problem. It impacts the Island ’s public health, environment and economy. And it ’s a problem we all must address. ”

Project SAFE was initially launched in 2000, funded by a grant from the Community Foundation and a Hilton Head PSD customer bill “round up ” program. More recently, the project was revitalized when Mayor David Bennet made completing public sewer mains across the Island part of his election platform. The Town of Hilton Head Island has since allocated $3.5 million to the sewer project.

Prior to the most recent Community Foundation grant, $800,000 was raised to connect 400 low-income households. However about 1,000 households on Hilton Head Island still rely on septic systems. Environmental conditions such as a high water table and dense root systems – combined with aging septic systems – cause contaminated wastewater runoff that results in health, ecological and economic problems that affect not only Hilton Head Island, but also surrounding regions.

The cost to connect to the public sewer system varies, but generally runs between $3,000 and $5,000 per household, according to Pete Nardi, general manager of Hilton Head PSD. Nardi said PSD has begun implementing a five-year plan to lay sewer mains in unserved neighborhoods. Once these mains are installed, Project SAFE grants can cover the expense of connecting low-income households to these lines.

Jim Allhusen, board member and incoming chairman of the Project SAFE Task Force, believes Project SAFE warrants this significant support. “The problem of poorly-functioning septic systems has far-reaching consequences. When you consider the number of people impacted by this issue – children and adults living in affected households, Island residents who enjoy our pristine environment, people who make their livelihoods from tourism and the 2.5 million visitors each year – we believe Project SAFE resoundingly falls within our mission of strengthening and improving the region. ”

Community Foundation board chair Perry Washington agrees. “The Community Foundation board believes resolutely that Project SAFE warrants our support—so much so that, as an organization, this is the first time we ’ve undertaken a major capital campaign. It demonstrates our commitment to creating the cleanest, healthiest environment for all people living on or visiting Hilton Head Island. ”

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