Commercial assistance funds aid businesses

By Steve Estes

As the final touches are put in place for the financing plan for the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater system, relief may be in sight for Deer Run Bed and Breakfast, a small lodging establishment on Long Beach Road in Big Pine Key.

The establishment’s owners, Harry Appel and Jennifer DeMaria, have been trying for more than a year to put an addition on the facility for their own private living quarters. They qualified for the building permit in all aspects, but were held up by the Department of Health which required a larger wastewater system than the facility currently has.

So the two spent the needed money to design a “state-of-the-art” on-site wastewater treatment system to meet current codes, said Appel.

And within days of nailing down the final details for issuance of the permit, the Monroe Board of County Commissioners, on the recommendation of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, voted to expand the central wastewater collection system to include Long Beach Road.

The problem for Deer Run is that the facility, due to its remote location from the nearest planned collection pipe, had never been considered for inclusion in the central system.

The two owners had letters from county officials and FKAA officials that they would not be included in the central system, and based on those letters, went ahead with some $10,000 in expenditures to have the system designed.

Once an area has been included in the central system, property owners are supposed to be forced to abandon their on-site system and hook into the central pipe in the street.

Appeal said they were looking at a completion date sometime this summer for the on-site system, and were told that a central pipe would be available in about two years.

So after $30,000 in money out the window to add a couple hundred square feet of owner living quarters and comply with waste treatment mandates, the facility would lose that money in about two years, and still have to fork out $4,500 or more in hook up fees plus costs to install a lateral from the building drain to the street.

“There was no fairness in that equation,” said Appel.

But in its financing plan for the Cudjoe Regional, county and FKAA officials built in a few contingency items. The original bid for the Cudjoe Regional was about $135 million. With the contingency add ons, the price tag went up to around $147 million.

Included in those contingency items was money for commercial assistance, said County Administrator Roman Gastesi.

Because Deer Run faced its issues due to no fault of its own, it probably qualifies as a very good example of what that contingency money should be used for, says Gastesi.

“Basically we will be purchasing the system design that Deer Run has already paid for in hopes that it can be modified for the other on-site systems that will be part of the Cudjoe Regional,” said Gastesi. “That helps make Deer Run whole for something we did, and gives us a design we don’t have to pay additional money for.”

Gastesi said there is more money in that contingency that is designed to aid commercial properties “with an unusual set of circumstances.”

“We have commercial  properties where a force main will be located in the street and they can’t get the necessary drop for a gravity feed so they’ll have to install a small lift station on their property,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to pay for our design parameters in those cases.”

The money isn’t designed to offset hook up assessments, he said, but can be used for other aid if the system’s design or policy decisions put the commercial property owner behind the proverbial eight ball.

“It’s all going to be on a case-by-case basis, but if we can justify the reason, that money is there to aid our commercial properties,” said Gastesi.

“The number of properties that will be affected by things like that is going to be very minimal, but this is all about equity and fairness. We can’t the property owner to bear extra expense because of what we did in some cases,” he said.

Of course, county and FKAA officials won’t go out looking for affected properties.

“You have to come ask for i he money and bring us justification,” said Gastesi.

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