Legislation sought for permit timing

By Steve Estes

Monroe County officials have elected to ask the state Legislature to solve some of their problems with the construction of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.

With construction of the system set to start later this month, property owners who plan to build, or rebuild, a residential lot, are faced with the possibility of installing enhanced on-site wastewater plants to get building permits for the property only to have to decommission those same $20,000 plants in a couple of years when the county runs a collection pipe in front of their new homes.

Property owners in Monroe County who have been awarded a rare Rate of Growth Ordinance allocation have time limits on pulling permits or risk losing the allocation. Once the permits have been pulled, they must get an inspection every 180 days or the permits expire. If the permits expire, the ROGO allocation goes away.

The problem comes in when, after receiving a ROGO allocation, the owners must then go to the Department of Health for a waste treatment permit. That is a first step before the county issues building permits, some way to handle the effluent that will eventually be created by the property.

Residents to eventually be served by the Cudjoe Regional, that’s everyone from Lower Sugarloaf to Big Pine, are the only ones who have faced this dilemma in unincorporated Monroe County. For all of the other systems developed, there was a variance in place from the state that allowed a much less expensive interim system to go in the ground, or a delay with a date for central hook up, that prevented the installation of a $20,000 septic system that would just have to be ripped out in two years or so.

Rather than try and push a county ordinance through that lets those folks so affected just keep the ROGO allocation until they see daylight in the long tunnel to eventual central hook up, county staff is asking the state to allow for a four-year extension of the time frame to build.

The state mandate that requires the Keys to be upgraded to advanced wastewater treatment by December 31, 2015, also mandates that property owners hook into that pipe within a year of its availability.

The problem is a county ordinance that mandates a 30-day hook up, although officials admit that realistically there aren’t enough licensed plumbers or building inspectors to allow most to meet that deadline. That is particularly brought home by the estimated timetable for pipes to be available in the Cudjoe outer island area of sometime mid-2014. That would mean hooking up about 5,000 properties in the span of six months or less.

There are no guarantees that the state Legislature will acquiesce to the county’s wishes to solve the problem by new state laws, but as yet no local ordinance has yet been proposed to alleviate the problem.

County officials are also still waiting on staff to come up with some program guidelines to offer relief for the people that have already been caught in a similar dilemma.

Anyone whose system failed or required repair in the last three years has been forced to put a compliant on-site system in the ground, at a cost of about $20,000 each, even though they knew a central pipe would run in front of the property within five years, requiring that new plant to be abandoned for the hook up to the street and the county’s central system.

Those owners also are being required to pay the same $4,500 hook up fee as everyone else.

“If we’re looking for fairness and equity, we have to find some way to provide relief to those people caught like that,” says County Administrator Roman Gastesi.

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