How Mayor James Campo Led The Transition Of Sewall's Point From Septic To Sewer
It’s tough to beat the views at Sewall’s Point. On one side, sunrises peek over the Indian River Lagoon. On the other, sunsets peer down upon the St. Lucie River.
Still, James Campo remembers the blue-green algae blooms he watched wash ashore last summer from his office balcony overlooking the Evans Crary Bridge.
On the Sewall’s Point Town Commission since 2014, Campo’s current role as mayor—a one-year term that expired this month—provided him an opportunity to make a contribution to a solution to the St. Lucie River’s overall health.
“It’s an honor to be in this position—mayor of your hometown,” says the father of five and certified financial planner. “And I wanted to make it count by accomplishing something meaningful for my community and for these beautiful bodies of water that nearly surround us.”
That opportunity arrived this year for the 2,200-person municipality on a peninsula, Campo says, particularly when Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, Rep. Gayle Harrell and Martin County Commission Chair Doug Smith aligned in prioritizing funding for septic-to-sewer conversions.
Campo urged the town commission to pursue a $500,000 state appropriation to begin the transition process. Though he says it’s no magic bullet, Campo points to Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute studies showing that septic emissions—mixed with Lake Okeechobee discharges—fuel algae blooms.
“Phasing off septic tanks may not be the solution,” he says. “But it’s part of the solution.”
Cautious about additional costs, Sewall’s Point Town Commission deliberated and hesitated about accepting the grant, inviting critics to accuse the town—a consistent voice for cleaner waterways—of environmental hypocrisy.
Media coverage heated up. An attack ad from a special interest group arrived in Martin County mailboxes. Residents of various views crowded town hall to voice concerns. Campo, nevertheless, opted for an encouraging approach, ultimately earning unanimous support from his commission colleagues to accept the grant and begin sewer conversion in the town’s commercial district and two residential sections of town beginning in 2018.
Did you realize when you went after the grant how complicated things would get?
No, but it’s been a tremendous learning experience to see how the system works. At the onset, I promised residents that we would gather information, sit down like a family and make a decision based on that information. For a small town, I really do see it like a family meeting. Some people laughed at the idea of getting divergent views together, but people gave us feedback and that’s what produces a good outcome.
Some accused the town of rejecting the grant, even when the commission had never actually voted on it.
Right. We never voted to reject the grant. What was rejected was town-wide, immediate, mandatory assessments. And what we ended up with was a much more palatable solution that most everyone feels comfortable with.
What do you think was the project’s strongest appeal?
There’s the obvious environmental benefit, but it’s dollars and cents. It’s eliminating antiquated technology in a cost-effective way.
Do you foresee Sewall’s Point ever making a full conversion?
Possibly. It all depends on the successful execution of what we have to do right now. This is going to be the poster child.
What do you hope to achieve next in the political realm?
It’s been exciting to see this effort gain support from the Sewall’s Point community, which I do think of as a family, and if we can make it a success, I think it will go a long way toward helping us achieve other great things together.