Outer island sewer work begins July

By Steve Estes

Officials at the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority expect final system designs to be completed sometime in the next three weeks for the outer islands wastewater collection portion of the Cudjoe Regional system.

“We have been told by our contractor that they will be breaking ground on Lower Sugarloaf Key about July 17, so we would assume final designs by that time,” said Kirk Zuelch, executive director at FKAA.

He said the contractor expects to be breaking ground on the Ramrod Key collection lines about six weeks later.

Zuelch said FKAA isn’t yet sure exactly how many homes will be hooked into what has become a controversial low-pressure grinder pump system and won’t until they see the final designs.

The number of those pumps has been estimated at about 2,800 throughout the Cudjoe Regional, with most in the outer islands collection basins of Lower Sugarloaf and Ramrod through Big Pine Key.

And even though some residents have balked at the high use of grinder pumps in the system, both FKAA and the Monroe Board of County Commissioners last week decided to continue with their use.

Zuelch said the contractor for the treatment plant, located at the landfill site on Blimp Road in Cudjoe Key, has finished with the piping to the plant location.

County Engineer Kevin Wilson said last week that the actual treatment plant should begin to rise from the ground in about a week.

Zuelch said the plant construction is about a two-year process. Once the plant is completed, users can begin to be hooked into the collection lines. The first hook ups probably won’t be until sometime in early 2015.

Zuelch also said that the contractor for the inner island collection system, which spans Upper Sugarloaf through Summerland Key, already has about 30,000 feet of pipe in the ground along LaFitte Rd. on Cudoje Key.

“Progress is moving ahead rapidly,” he said. “There is a lot of construction started in various areas and we will see more in the coming weeks.”

Part of that construction will include road paving mostly in areas where gravity pipes have been installed. Gravity system pipes are larger than those used in the low-pressure areas, said Zuelch, and will generally run down the middle of the road.

“In all areas where gravity is being used, repaving roads is part of the project budget,” he said.

In some areas where low-pressure pipes will run, Zuelch said repaving will not always be necessary.

“The low-pressure pipes are smaller in diameter and in many cases can run in the shoulder of the road, which won’t require paving,” he said. “But anywhere repaving is necessary, the price for that has already been built into the project budget.”

County Administrator Roman Gastesi said that his staff is currently working on a capital improvement plan that includes more than $20 million for roads over the next five years.

“We want to work with the contractor on the wastewater project and identify those roads that need to be repaved anyway so if the contractor is going to do half the road, we’ll try and add a few bucks to that and get the entire road done as part of the sewer project,” said Gastesi.

The final piece of the puzzle will be joining the inner and outer islands systems together at Niles Channel.

Officials had orignally hoped to be able to install the pipes and lift stations inside the superstructure of the bridge where water lines and other infrastructure are currently located, but the State Department of Transportation put the kibosh on that plan.

“We’re told by DOT that Niles Channel is one of the original designs for Keys bridges and they are concerned that the additional weight of the wastewater system would be too much for the superstructure of the bridge. They won’t allow us to go that route,” said Zuelch.

He said DOT officials feel as though the interior of the bridge may need renovations in the near future, and possibly replacement in the shorter rather than longer term. Parts of the old bridge across Niles Channel have already begun to break off and fall into the water, prompting DOT to close the fishing platforms used by the community.

So the pipe that connects the inner and outer island systems at Niles Channel will be accomplished by direct boring under the bridge.

The finance plan for the system includes $3.6 million for the direct bore project, said Zuelch.

While contractors start digging dirt, county officials are still wrestling with assessment fee issues both in the inner island and outer island areas.

One of those issues was St. Peter Church on Big Pine Key where Father Tony last week was notified that the county wanted $132,000 in assessments to allow the church to hook into the central system.

That didn’t sit well with the church, said Father Tony, and he immediately sought the aid of county commissioners and staff.

Last Thursday, Wilson said he researched the issue and discovered that the water meter that measures irrigation feed for the soccer fields at the church hadn’t been identified as such, which greatly elevated the water flow numbers. Assessments for non-residential properties are based on the average daily flow of  water from a typical single-family home. That average is 167 gallons per day.

With the irrigation meter,the flow for St. Peter was equivalent to 29.5 EDUs.

Without the irrigation meter, the usage dropped to 4.3 EDUs,  or just over $19,000 in hookup fees.

Now is the time for outer islands property owners to check their assessment notices from the county. Assessments are due by August 31 or will be automatically rolled over into the 20-year amortization program and added to the yearly tax bill at a beginning amount of $310 per year.

Gastesi said that no appeal of an assessment will be turned away, but that appeals the August date might have to happen for next year’s budget cycle.

In those cases, Wilson said that adjustments will be made as credits against future assessment payments.

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