Final bids lower cost for sewers

By Steve Estes

The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority Tuesday opened the final bids on the proposed Cudjoe Regional Wastewater system and officials finally saw the savings from anticipated costs they had been hoping for.

According to County Engineer Kevin Wilson, the lowest bid for the outer island collection system, which will cover Lower Sugarloaf Key, Ramrod Key, the Torch Keys and Big Pine Key, came in at about $75 million, roughly $15 million below original estimates.

Wilson said the low bidder was the company that has been hired to do the Islamorada system, which may have been the impetus for the lower bid.

Officials had been concerned, after announcing for nearly a year that they expected bids to come in well under the estimated price tag of $150 million for the Cudjoe Regional, when bids for the treatment plant on Blimp Road on Cudjoe Key and the inner island collection system for Upper Sugarloaf, Cudjoe and Summerland Keys didn’t come in as low as hoped.

Engineers had estimated $18 million for the plant and got a low bid of just over $21 million, but had estimated $42 million for the inner island system and got a low bid of about $36 million.

“We came in about 10 percent under our estimates overall,” said Wilson.

If the FKAA board accepts the low bids for all three phases, the final cost of the system will be $132 million.

That means the county will need even less money from the extension of the infrastructure sales tax recently approved by the voters.

That tax was a vital part of the county’s funding proposal for the largest system it has yet undertaken, slated to handle up to 10,000 equivalent dwelling units at peak, with about 8,800 of those on the system initially.

To pay for the system, the county plans to use some $40 million in user assessments. Eventual users of the system have been mandated to pay $4,500 per EDU.

Another chunk of money will be from a grant of $30 million from the state, with another $20 million coming from the county’s coffers in unused funds from the existing infrastructure one-cent sales tax. That leaves about $40 million to be drawn from the tax extension, using roughly the county’s share of the sales tax pot for just under four years.

After that, officials can begin targeting the sales tax fund for other projects, which the Board of County Commissioners has said will be a nearly $30 million backlog in road and bridge projects.

The FKAA board of directors is expected to approve the treatment plant and inner-island collection system bids at their Dec. 19 meeting. The board had held off approving the bids last meeting so the county could review some additional areas the utility thought could be included in the project.

According to County Administrator Roman Gastesi, he will not suggest that the BOCC expand the project, leaving the master plan as adopted in 2006 intact.

Under that plan, about 288 properties will not get a central sewer connection, including some interior areas of Big Pine Key, outlying areas of Sugarloaf, Cudjoe and Summerland Keys, and No Name Key. Those properties will have a choice to upgrade their existing on-site systems through an FKAA program, or on their own, unless they already have compliant systems.

FKAA Executive Director Kirk Zuelch said that the outer island system bid should be awarded in January, and every phase of the project ready to put “shovels in the ground” by February.

That brings the project into compliance with the state caveat that the projects be ready to build by March 2013 to get the grant funding from state bonds.

County officials are still trying to get the remaining $150 million promised from the state, with next year’s allocation set to go to Marathon and Key Largo. That money, according to Gastesi, can’t be used to pay off debt, but can be used to put pipes in the ground while other money goes to pay off debt quicker.

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