County may add areas to system

By Steve Estes

Monroe County and Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority officials have tentatively set the construction budget for the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System at $146 million.

That’s about $15 million more than the bids received to date for the system, but the extra costs are routine in some cases, said County Administrator Roman Gasetsi.

And some items are designed to aid small businesses that might otherwise face insurmountable costs to connect to the public pipes, although not to address hook up assessments, said Gastesi.

The funding plan calls for approximately $22 million for the regional treatment plant to be located on Blimp Road on Cudjoe Key. It also includes an estimated $35.7 million for the inner islands collection system. That phase of the project will put the piping and pumps in place to collect wastewater from Upper Sugarloaf Key, Cudjoe Key and Summerland Key.

The funding plan includes $75 million for the outer islands collection system which will serve users on Lower Sugarloaf Key, Ramrod Key, the Torch Keys and Big Pine Key.

What the plan also includes in its funding proposal is $7 million in construction engineering and inspection costs for the FKAA staff to oversee the project and for public outreach costs during the course of the project.

About $2 million is estimated to be used for commercial support purposes, says Gastesi. That support includes things such as helping small businesses that may have to install a lift station on their property to be able to get the effluent from their facility to the pipes in the street right-of-way.

He pointed at a Big Pine Key building housing Good Food Conspiracy as one of those locations.

“The building has four or five toilets, and they can’t get the gravity drop necessary so they’ll have to put a lift station on the property to connect to the force main that will be in front of their building,” he said.

He said engineers estimate there will be about 100 of those types of situations during the course of building the system, at an average cost of “about $20,000 each. But we won’t know the final cost until we have to do it.”

He said managers felt it was unfair to ask small businesses to foot the bill for the lift stations simply because they were unlucky enough to have to feed into a force main, which is much closer to the surface than the normal collection pipe.

“We don’t want to put anybody out of business,” said Gastesi.

Any aid with commercial hook up assessments will have to be a policy decision made by the Monroe Board of County Commissioners after the current appeals of those initial decisions have run their course.

The funding plan includes a possible $3.4 million in additional money for the Niles Channel crossing.

The preferred method of moving wastewater across Niles Channel is to put a pipe inside the bridge and use lift stations, said County Engineer Kevin Wilson.

“We thought we had the issue addressed with FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation), but they changed their mind and told us they didn’t think the bridge could handle the pipes inside the box,” said Wilson. “The next best solution is to directional bore under the channel, a contingency we budgeted for with the $3.4 million.”

And even though county staff has said a couple of times in the past that extending the system beyond its borders approved in the current wastewater master plan, and later accepted by the state, wasn’t on the table, the funding plan allows for $2.6 million to do just that.

“Once we reviewed some of the areas the FKAA felt were financially feasible to add to the system, it made fiscal sense and will ultimately be better for the environment to put them on central pipes instead of on-site systems,” said Wilson.

All properties in the Keys are supposed to be upgraded to advanced wastewater treatment standards by Dec. 31, 2015. In the Cudjoe Regional area there were some 288 properties that would not be served by central sewer. The expanded area would cut that number.

But any expansion would have to be approved by the BOCC since it has an approved master plan in place that doesn’t include the expanded areas.

The change might also necessitate state legislative action since the 2009 wastewater master plan is specifically delineated in the state’s wastewater mandate for the Keys. That mandate gave the Keys the authority to force hook ups to the central system, as well as the extension from 2010 to 2015.

“We have to be able to get the financing package in place for the construction to begin,” said Gastesi. “And even though we still have some decisions that must be made by the BOCC, it’s better to include any additional costs we are aware of now, at the beginning, and plan a financing package for that. If we decide against those additions, we can reallocate the money to other projects.”

With the $146 million tally, Gastesi said the county will have to draw $56 million from the recently extended infrastructure sales tax fund. Current estimates are that the county receives about $16 million yearly from that tax, budgeting $15 million. Four years worth of that money will cover the remaining wastewater projects, although the county plans to do longer-term debt issues so some of the money can be freed up to address other infrastructure needs, such as roads and bridges.

“We have to go to the board with those things that need their action sooner rather than later,” said Gastesi. “The FKAA plans to have shovels in the ground by February.”

The treatment plant will be the first project to get off the ground, because it must be operational before users can tie into the system, but the inner island system should be developing concurrently, said Wilson.

“The outer island system will be a little behind because there is still design work to do,” Wilson said.

Officials say that inner island users should be able to start tying into the system in late 2014, with outer island users able to start hooking in by mid- to late-2015.

“We won’t have everyone on by the 2015 deadline,” said Gastesi. “But we should have completed lines available and I think the state will consider that we met the mandate.”

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