State action just a good start

By Steve Estes

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners is attempting to get the state to approve some legislation that gets local property owners somewhat off the hook for forcing residents to pay twice for upgraded sewer systems.

Up until about four years ago, the state had a variance in place that allowed property owners in the Keys to repair existing septic systems if they were going to eventually be hooked into the central pipes.

That legislation lapsed and was never renewed. And as such things go, there were a few dozen people that were forced to put in brand-new wastewater systems that were compliant with the advanced treatment standards because their system required repairs, or quit working altogether.

That cost the property owners somewhere between $15,000 and $25,000. And as of now, those same property owners are facing the possibility of abandoning that relatively new, expensive system in just a couple of years when the county runs a collection pipe in the street in front of their home.

Repairs probably would have been much less expensive, and an interim system, albeit with lesser treatment standards, would have been much less expensive. Either way, those owners still faced the necessity to abandon those systems and hook into the central pipe.

For some, that means a $30,000 or more hit in the wallet with the cost of the system, the hook up fee for the Cudjoe Regional of $4,500 per home and the cost for lateral lines, and oh yeah, the cost for permitting on top of that.

That’s a steep bill for anybody.

And then there were the folks who built new homes during the last four or five years and had to put an advanced system in the ground, just to be forced to abandon it and hook into the central pipe when it comes in a few years.

A $25,000 investment is a big chunk for most anyone, and a few years, even five years, is a very short time to see any return on that investment.

So the county is asking the state Legislature to change the laws and allow those people who were forced to put in compliant systems between July 1, 2010 and July 18, 2012 to run those systems until December 2020 before abandoning them and hooking into a central pipe.

Those folks who were in the latest round of additions to the central system who may already have compliant systems in the ground, or are in the process of putting them in because they added to the property, need repairs or just wanted to get a jump on the law and be in the ground before the 2015 deadline, will also be able to run those systems until December 2020.

That’s a good first step toward some relief for those folks in the Cudjoe Regional system caught in this unique conundrum.

The interim system legislation was in effect for every other central system in the county when that system broke ground. This is an issue unique to the Cudjoe Regional and to Islamorada, the last two systems to get off the starting blocks.

But we would urge the commission and county staff to continue to try and get that relief extended.

The typical compliant septic system has a shelf life of 20 to 25 years. Under this relief measure, those systems will get a maximum of 10 years in operation before they have to go away, with maybe an additional year due to construction delays, which are almost inevitable in the Keys, and maybe an additional year before they run into the buzz saw that is code compliance trying to force hook up.

And we must remember that these folks still have to pay the $4,500 hook up fee. And there are those, like the owners at Deer Run Bed & Breakfast, who, relying on the news for the last 10 years that they wouldn’t be part of the central system, have spent tens of thousands in permitting and engineering costs for a state-of-the-art, ecologically friendly system designed to carry them for much more than 25 years.

So while a break until 2020 is probably greatly appreciated, there is still work to do to save the pocketbooks of the 60-plus people who fall into this “double-dip” category.

That may seem like a small number, until you are one of that number.

So kudos for the initial effort, and let’s keep working on the issue until we have a fair resolution for everyone.

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