Owner work on laterals tricky

By Steve Estes

Wednesday county officials plan to clarify what it is homeowners can do to help themselves shave some costs when installing sewer laterals from their primary drain to the pipe in the street, when the pipe gets there.

At earliest estimates, it will probably be close to 18 months, more likely two years, before the notices will go out that will require the first of property owners to hook into the central collection system the county plans to install for the Cudjoe Regional service area.

Phase One of the planned project, which will include users from Lower Sugarloaf Key through Big Pine Key, is the construction of the treatment plant at the county’s land fill site on Blimp Road. The second phase will be the installation of transmission lines and collection lines for the core system area covering Upper Sugarloaf Key, Cudjoe Key and Summerland Key. The final phase will be the installation of transmission and collection lines for the outer system covering Lower Sugarloaf, Ramrod Key, the Torch Keys and Big Pine Key.

But already property owners have begun to ask questions on what they can do themselves to save a few bucks. Estimates to install laterals vary from just under $2,000 to $6,000 or more depending on the length of the pipe necessary to get from the primary drain to the pipe in the street.

According to new Building Official Jerry Smith, the property owner can actually do all the work themselves.

If they apply for and receive the proper permits from the county as an owner-builder.

And as long as the property owner doesn’t hire anyone else to aid them in the endeavor.

According to a memo from Smith to the Board of County Commissioners, before a property owner can receive the necessary permit, they will have to answer a battery of questions from the permit reviewer to determine if the owner actually has the knowledge to complete the work.

“The owner/builder’s responsibilities include, but are not limited to, having the knowledge and ability to do the work,” wrote Smith.

If the property owner doesn’t do all the work themselves, he says, they must personally supervise all the work. They can’t hire another person to supervise unless that person is licensed to do the work.

And if property owners hire someone else, they must show proof of workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, pay federal withholding taxes and social security taxes.

As long as the property owner is the supervisor, they may hire anyone to perform the actual work as long as the tax ramifications are settled, he said.

For the majority of part-time residents, absentee landlords and second-home owners, that puts the owner/builder permit out of the scope of what can be done.

County commissioners last month raised questions about having non-profit groups such as Habitat for Humanity, serve as labor.

That’s possible, writes Smith, because the state has given Habitat a blanket permit to serve as a contractor as long as the representative has some construction experience. But his memo says that all applicable building permits will have to be applied for and received.

According to Smith, sewer laterals require excavation allowing the burial of the new pipe, at a depth that will eventually meet the depth of the pipe in the street and meet building codes.

Installation will also include connections made at the house and at the street, the installation of back flow prevention devices and the replacement of excavation materials and landscaping. Property owners will also be required to secure the necessary approvals to abandon the existing septic systems on the property and the documentation to prove such at completion.

“It can be an extensive process involving various skills and intensive physical labor which many owner/builders are not capable of,” wrote Smith.

According to county staff, once an owner/builder permit is obtained, the property owner can use free labor from any source, as long as they are aware that any injuries could fall back on the homeowner’s liability insurance to settle.

There will be a new wrinkle for property owners in the Cudjoe Regional service area in the county’s new permit referral process that was designed to answer a long-standing lawsuit brought by environmental groups against the Federal Emergency Management Agency and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under that new process, permits for sewer laterals may have to have USFWS consultations if the new lines extend into unscarified habitat areas within the endangered species focus areas or buffers.

What homeowners will not have to contend with is the county requesting inspections of lower level enclosures to obtain a lateral permit, or of other areas of the home having nothing to do with the lateral installation. That requirement was outlawed by the state Legislature last year and took effect July 1, 2012.

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