Sewer workshop set for Cudjoe system

By Steve Estes

The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority board will host a workshop Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. at its Key West offices to discuss the latest developments regarding the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater system.

Expected to be discussed at that meeting are the recent bids to construct the inner island collection system for the regional project.

The Cudjoe Regional, the county’s largest yet and final regional wastewater system is being done in three phases. The first phase will be the construction of the treatment plant at the landfill on Blimp Road on Cudjoe Key. The second phase is the construction of the inner island collection system that will serve Upper Sugarloaf, Cudjoe and Summerland Keys.

Both of those projects have already been bid. The plant bids have been accepted, but the collection system bids were held because the FKAA board wanted the county to review some additional areas proposed for service that were not originally included in the master plan.

But according to County Administrator Roman Gastesi, he will not suggest that the Board of County Commissioners entertain any expansion of the system since the county has to find the money to pay for the construction of the estimated $150 project.

According to wastewater engineers, the additions probably aren’t cost-effective anyway and are expected to be dropped from the proposals before the FKAA board approves contracts at the December 19 meeting.

The third phase will be the design and build of the outer islands collection system which will cover Lower Sugarloaf, Ramrod, the Torches and Big Pine Keys. Bid opening on those projects is scheduled for the middle of this month, with awarding of a contract in January.

FKAA officials say that the treatment plant project and the inner island collection system can probably break ground by February 2013, with the outer island system close behind.

The expansions proposed by FKAA could have run the project afoul of the county’s land use regulations against extending infrastructure into areas designated as Coastal Barrier Resource Systems.

The county couldn’t stop FKAA from installing the lines in established rights-of-way, but its codes prevent it from issuing electrical and plumbing permits for hook up to the lines.

Should the expansion proposal be dropped, that issue will become moot.

Infrastructure expansion in the Keys into sensitive environmental areas has become a hot-button issue of late with the county embroiled in a protracted legal battle with residents of No Name Key over electrification of the island.

That legal battle has been going on for more than five years with one case at the state Public Service Commission, one at the 3rd District Court of Appeals and one in the local circuit court.

But the BOCC is expected to hear a settlement offer for those legal actions Wednesday during a regular meeting that if accepted would potentially eliminate the county prohibition against utilities in a CBRS.

Such a change would clear the way for expansion of sewer pipes into all of the 15 CBRS units in the Keys as long as federal money doesn’t pay for the extension and allow the homeowners there to hook into the pipes instead of replacing their existing on-site systems with upgraded systems.

With the awarding of bids slated for later this month, FKAA officials have begun the legal process of get permission to install equipment on private property. The Cudjoe Regional will be a hybrid system of gravity and low-pressure, with the latter used in more remote areas to decrease the cost. To install the grinder pumps necessary to operate the low-pressure systems, FKAA needs an easement from the property owners.

And that easement request has raised a few hackles amongst property owners.

The easement FKAA is asking for includes the entire parcel when a five-foot by five-foot section is needed for the pump installation and a four-foot wide swath to allow equipment access.

The easement request also says that no obstructions can be installed on the easement in the future that would cause FKAA to have limited access to its equipment for repair or replacement.

Local land use attorney Lee Rohe of Summerland Key says that the easement isn’t as Draconian as it sounds.

“They want to make sure they can park equipment for the installations or later repairs without the need to get property owner permission each time. They typically use this type of easement when the actual location of the equipment isn’t known before construction starts,” he said.

FKAA officials have said that they will install the pumps where the property owner desires them, and will at their expense run the needed pipe to the street, as well as the electrical connection needed to a power station supplied by the owner from the home’s primary box.

Rohe said that the easement won’t stand in the way of additions to the home or landscaping at a later date unless those additions would interfere with the utility’s ability to access the property for maintenance and replacement.

If homeowners don’t want to agree to that easement, they can hire their own surveyor to delineate an easement for the sewer lines, but that’s an expense some people can’t bear, said Rohe.

According to the FKAA letter, the final option is that the property owner pay for the pump, power and pipes on their own and then maintain such into the future.

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