BOCC votes yes to expand areas

By Steve Estes

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday decided to add more than 150 users to the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System that previously were in areas where central sewers wasn’t slated to go.

The largest of those additions was the Long Beach Road area of Big Pine Key where officials estimate 44 properties would be added to the Cudjoe Regional system at a cost of about $15,000 per. But by adding that area to the system, officials also gain the Big Pine Fishing Lodge, which county engineer Kevin Wilson estimates is about 30 equivalent dwelling units.

“By adding the fishing lodge, that brings the cost per EDU way down and makes that portion of the project quite low,” said Wilson.

Adding the areas may force further actions by the BOCC such as the need to change the adopted wastewater master plan to include those areas in the central system.

Wilson has already learned that the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees land use issues in the Florida Keys Area of Critical State Concern, will not object to adding additional units.

But what the move will also force is a policy discussion in the very near future about how to handle properties included in the expanded areas that have for more than a decade been told they won’t be part of the central system and using that knowledge, have already installed systems that meet minimum state standards, sometimes at a cost of up to $25,000.

Wilson said there is no concrete plan in place to deal with those folks as yet, but did have some suggestions.

“If those properties have a compliant system in the ground now, we can allow them to continue to use those systems until they fail to meet standards then they can be hooked in,” he said.

Wilson suggested that affected properties should pay the system development fee now, As the work is beginning, the system is being built.”

The established hook up fee is $4,500 per EDU.

“I’m sure that the Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Protection and the county can work out a plan to give those folks some relief,” said Wilson.

“The thing to take away from this conversation is that we are aware of the issue, we are paying attention, and we are working on the issue,” said County Mayor George Neugent.

Neugent also suggested that while staff and state agencies, along with representatives of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority are discussing properties that used to be in cold spots and now will be in the central system, they also discuss relief for those properties where the owners were forced to upgrade to a compliant system because theirs failed for some reason in the last few years but will now be hooked into the central system in a few years.

“Those owners who knew they were going on the central system and chose to build anyway, or upgrade anyway, made an unwise choice perhaps,” said Neugent. “But those that have been forced through no fault of their own to spend $20,000 or $25,000 on a complaint system and now we tell them they have to abandon that and hook up, we have to find some relief for them.”

The commission also agreed to add two areas contiguous to the treatment plant on Cudjoe Key, and Bat Tower Road on Lower Sugarloaf, although the pipes for the latter area will have to be moved to avoid a Coastal Barrier Resource System area, a federal designation where the county is already embroiled in litigation because it has codes that don’t allow the issuance of building permits to hook into public infrastructure.

Bayshore Drive on Ramrod Key will be added to the central system, as will 58 properties along Newfound Harbor and in the interior areas of Big Pine Key where on-site systems were previously contemplated.

“This additional area is for the greater public good,” said Wilson. “An on-site system can’t treat effluent to the standards of a central plant. We get cleaner water.”

One of the areas where the county is currently embroiled in litigation for its CBRS policies, No Name Key, must be hooked in to the central system, said No Name resident Beth Ramsay-Vickrey.

According to her, the county signed federal documents that promised all identified impaired waters would be placed on the central system. No Name, she says, is on that list and thus must get central sewers.

No Name is not on the list of additional service areas.

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