Neugent: Make permit process simplerBy Steve Estes
Though it may be a year or more until property owners inside the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System service area will need to even consider having to hook up their homes to a pipe in the street,the time to start streamlining that process is now.
So says County Mayor George Nuegent, whose District Two seat encompasses all of what will be the Cudjoe Regional from Lower Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key.
The county currently has building department offices in Key West, Marathon and Key Largo. For folks on Big Pine, that means a drive of anywhere from 24 miles to 30 miles to apply for what may be a simple over the counter permit.
Homeowners will have to have a plumbing permit from the county to hook their house drain into the sewer mains, or into the grinder pump if they’re on that system. That permit right now is priced at $70. For those who need a separate electrical power supply for the 240-volt, 30-amp exterior service to run the grinder pump, that permit is priced right now at $150.
But people will have to lose the better part of a day to drive from almost anywhere in the Cudjoe Regional service area to a building department office to apply for that permit, wait until it makes the rounds inside the office, if it can be done in one day,and then return to display the permit before any work can start.
Of course, the county’s plumbing permit can’t be obtained until the homeowner has received a septic tank abandonment permit from the Monroe County Health Department Environmental Services section, at a cost expected to be about $90.
“When streets start coming up for hook ins, there are going to be a lot of people at the building counter trying to get the permits and get started,” said Neugent. “To ask them to drive for a half hour or more in any direction and then wait, maybe, is asking them to devote a lot of time.”
He said he expects much of the work to be done by outside contractors who will apply for the permits in bulk, tying up the building department staff for long periods.
“So the question becomes, how do we streamline the process to make it as easy on our residents as possible?” asked Neugent.
The first thing he believes must be done is to establish a building department office, at least temporarily, somewhere close to where it will be needed.
To that end, he says he plans to discuss with staff, either at the September Board of County Commissioners meeting or before, their thoughts on where and how to set up a satellite office that will cater to the needs of the Cudjoe Regional property owners.
He said he has considered some of the property the county already owns in the area. He’s not looking to add more expenses by renting property, although as a last resort it might come to that.
The county owns about 1.5 acres on the corner of US 1 and Industrial Road on Big Pine Key. The Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce building sits on that property through a lease from the county,”But there might be enough room there to install a temporary office facility and piggyback off the chamber’s facility if we kick in on the additional bills,” said Neugent.
He said he had also considered the building that currently houses the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Coconut Closet just off US 1 between the highway and Quail Roost Trail.
Habitat leases that building for $1 per year and at one time had all of its administrative offices there. The organization has, however, moved its admin offices to Key West where donations seem to be easier to come by, leaving the second floor of the building about half empty with ready-made office space that can be had again for the price of extra utility bills and some computer work to network to the servers in Marathon or Key West.
Neugent said he plans to speak to Health Department officials about the possibility of them locating a satellite office near or with the county to set up a “One-stop-shop effect, where people can buzz in on a lunch hour if they must to get the process started,” said Neugent.
Once Cudjoe Regional residents are given the one-year notice of availability, Neugent expects the permit applications to come in regularly.
Normally a permit is good for 180 days for these types of procedures, but the building department has simply been allowing sewer hook up related permits to stay open until the home is connected.
“We know we won’t be able to enforce the 30-day hook up schedule,” called for in county code, said Neugent. “There aren’t enough plumbers in the county to handle the pace.”
In all, there will will be more than 7,000 sewer connections of some type to be made once the collections lines are ready to accept effluent. The first islands to get notices of availability will probably be Cudjoe and Summerland Keys. Crews are already laying pipe on Cudjoe and Upper Sugarloaf, as well as Ramrod and Lower Sugarloaf.
Summerland, Cudjoe and Upper and Lower Sugarloaf will be ready for connection before anything from Ramrod to Big Pine according to the construction schedules because those islands won’t have to wait for the Niles Channel Bridge pipe to be installed.
Right now plans are to directional bore under the Niles Channel Bridge to join Summerland to the Ramrod and above systems. The treatment plant is beginning to rise from the ground on Blimp Road at land the county owns at the transfer station there and is expected to be ready to accept effluent flow in late 2014.
“We’re already approaching late 2013,” said Neugent. “A year isn’t a great deal of time when you consider how slowly government must move.”
The state has mandated that Monroe County be fully implemented on advanced wastewater treatment systems by December 2015.
“We won’t make that deadline because again there aren’t enough plumbers to handle the workload once the pipes are ready for hook up, but if we can do something to lessen the burden, we need to start now,” said Neugent.
“There may be other options for locating a satellite office. We need to start researching that now and make our decisions sooner rather than later,” he said.
Since Key Largo became its own sewer authority several years ago and is well on the way to completion, the system users furthest from an established county building office were those on Big Coppitt, no more than 11 miles from Key West, potentially a 15-minute drive.
“And the Big Coppitt system was nowhere near the size of the Cudjoe Regional,” said Neugent.
Islamorada residents have their own building department and will be hooking into the Key Largo system. Marathon has its own building department.
“This system is going to put a lot of strain on people. I think we should do what we can to help,” said Neugent.