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ITK: Update on Project SAFE

Let’s fix this problem for good.

Story by Jean Heyduck – Jean Heyduck is vice president for marketing and communications for Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.

For the past several years, you’ve been hearing about Project SAFE (Sewer Access For Everyone), an initiative championed by Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, Hilton Head Public Sewer District (PSD), and the Town of Hilton Head Island. These three entities partnered to provide public sewer access to local families, primarily on Hilton Head Island’s north end. For many years these families – many of them Native Islanders – have dealt with the appalling effects of failing septic systems, including waste bubbling up into their sinks and bathtubs, septic system overflows that turn their yards into literal cesspools and their inability to bathe or wash clothes during rain storms.

We’re excited to report that PSD is expected to lay the final sewer line for this project within the next several months, giving even more families the ability to connect.

But these connections aren’t free. The average connection fee costs a family about $6,700. For low-income families, that is simply unattainable.

That’s where Community Foundation of the Lowcountry stepped in. In 2017, we launched a $3 million fundraising campaign to provide connection grants to qualified low-income families. Thanks to generous individuals and corporate donors, we’ve raised $2.56 million so far. Those dollars, including dollars raised by PSD customers through their Bucks for a Better Island campaign, have helped 200 families connect to public sewer.

Not all families who are able to connect have done so, however. Some families whose septic systems still function effectively have chosen not to connect at this time. But eventually their systems will fail. Since the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has ruled they’ll no longer approve repair or replacement of septic systems where public sewer is available, those families eventually will be required by DHEC regulations to connect to the public sewer system. Knowing they have access to the system – and access to grant dollars if they qualify – will ensure the connections occur.

Of course, it’s not just the affected families that benefit from Project SAFE. We all do. Failing septic systems create wastewater runoff that enters our waterways, harming our fragile ecosystem. It impacts human health as well, and can be particularly harmful to children and the elderly. And if a septic system fails on one property, the problem can migrate to other properties, including yours.

Jim Allhusen, board chair for Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, thinks any of those reasons is enough for someone to support Project SAFE. “If you find these situations worrisome, then you have the power to eliminate them. Because this problem can be solved,” he says. “So many generous people and businesses have already made a donation to the Project SAFE Fund because they understand that the entire island is affected and that they can play a key role in improving the situation.”

There’s still time to for you to help. We are at 85 percent of our goal to help these families and our island. Over the next several months we need the public’s help to reach our $3 million goal and we’re counting on the support of businesses and people like you who care about our environment, our local economy, social justice and the health and wellbeing of all our citizens.

It’s easy to make a donation to Project SAFE. Online donations can be made on the Community Foundation’s website ( or call us at 843-681-9100. Let’s fix this problem for good. LL

The Safe Water for everyone challenge

LOCAL Life employees chipped in $6,700 to help connect one family to public sewer. If just 66 more companies or individuals accept this challenge, the goal of 267 homes will be met. Your company will be featured in an upcoming issue of LOCAL Life if you pledge $6,700 for one family to be connected before Oct. 1. Together, we can fix this problem for good!