Residents consider suit over system grinder pumpsBy Steve Estes
A group of local residents, twice turned back by the Monroe Board of County Commissioners, is considering filing legal action to stall or prevent the installation of more than 2,500 low-pressure grinder pump units throughout the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.
Though final designs aren’t yet completed for the outer islands portion of the system, the group, which calls itself the Sir Isaac Newton Coalition, claims that the installation of so many grinder pumps in the Cudjoe Regional will actually cost users more in the long run than the added expense of gravity pipes during the initial installation.
The group is being spearheaded by Cudjoe Key resident Walt Drabinski.
He says that along with about 20 other concerned residents, they are contemplating filing legal action to force the county and FKAA to perform cost-efficiency studies on the use of significant numbers of grinder pumps before the installation of the pumps actually begins.
Crews are already laying pipe on Cudjoe Key near Venture Out, while a separate contractor is laying pipe for the treatment plant run down Blimp Road and starting on the actual plant itself at vacant land at the Cudjoe Transfer Station there.
But thus far, no low-pressure lines or systems have gone in the ground, so time remains, says Drabinski, to at least perform a study by an independent third party to make sure area residents get the best system in the long run.
According to Drabinski, previous studies conducted by FKAA concluded that gravity systems were the optimal systems for more densely populated areas. But when the plans appeared, some of those same areas were a hybrid of gravity and low-pressure, even some neighborhoods where gravity systems went down one street and the adjoining street was low-pressure pipes.
“We believe that cost of installation was the overriding factor, and that doesn’t give the residents the best in long-term cost efficiency,” said Drabinski.
He claims that FKAA took it upon itself, without notification of the affected residents, or even the county commission, “and without analytical support” extended the grinder pumps to areas where they hadn’t been planned initially.
When residents asked for an optimization study, the measure failed at the BOCC for lack of a second to the motion to approve the study.
In the potential legal action, Drabinski says that the residents will be requesting that FKAA comply with the results of its own past studies as well as the recommendations from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The Florida Legislature in 2010 passed a new statute that named a central collection system as the preferred method of upgrading wastewater treatment, though not the only method. It did not, however, delineate what type of central collection system to use.
Drabinski says that a requirement under state guidelines for securing environmental project bonds is that the BOCC hold public hearings in which the final plans, costs and options for a collection system be explained to the residents.
That, he claims, was done in 2012, but the information presented then bears little resemblance to what is being proposed today.
And detailed information about the extent of low-pressure pumps wasn’t available in those meetings, he claims.
“The purpose of this requirement is to prevent a bait and switch, but it appears as though this is exactly what happened,” said Drabinski.
Drabinski claims that FKAA tells concerned residents that it will be responsible for maintaining the grinder pumps in perpetuity, but they refuse to put that promise in writing so they can later be bound by it and at some later date turn pump maintenance over to the homeowner.
Drabinski says that the BOCC and FKAA have ignored an independent analysis showing that gravity systems might well be less expensive to install than the grinder pumps.
“Instead they have offered to switch to a gravity system if the homeowners agree to foot the extra bill, which includes repaving the roads,” he said.
Any road dug up by the contractors will be repaved as part of the system installation contract. That will happen mostly on roads where gravity systems are installed as the pipes are larger and usually run down the center line of at least one lane on the road because of the narrow rights-of-way on residential streets.
Areas where low-pressure systems are being used won’t always require repaving under the contract because the smaller pipe diameter often allows the pipe trenches to be dug in the shoulder.
County Administrator Roman Gastesi said last week that plans are for every road affected by sewer pipe installation to be repaved during the final phases of construction.
“We’re working on a plan with the contractor to throw a few extra bucks into the paving process in the Cudjoe Regional area. We have a need to repave many of those roads anyway, and if we can get a good portion done under the sewer contract, it only makes sense to add enough to finish the job,” said Gastesi.
He said the county is still awaiting an estimate on how many miles it can get paved for a $5 million contribution to the process.
“I would think we can get nearly all of them,” he said.
Drabinski says that since FKAA seems to be doing its own thing without “justification, logic or analytical support and the county has refused to direct or monitor FKAA, we as citizens may have to take legal action.”
“We are going to have to live with the end result for decades,” said Drabinski. “We need to ensure that things are done right, with the best system for the money, and one that reduces the eventual maintenance load on the homeowner.”