Group to sue over grinder pumps

By Steve Estes

The Sir Isaac Newton Coalition, a loosely-organized group of property owners in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System service area Thursday morning was expected to file legal action against the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and Monroe County over the two agency’s handling of the sewer collection system.

Walt Drabinski, owner of Pirate Wellness on Cudoe Key and an independent energy consultant with Vantage Consulting, said the action has three immediate goals.

First, he said, is to seek a court injunction for FKAA contractors to stop work on the Cudjoe Regional in areas where low-pressure grinder pump systems are to be installed until the group’s questions are answered.

“If we sit back and wait, we’ll have grinder pumps. We’ll have a system we believe isn’t in the best interests of Monroe County or its citizens,” said Drabinski.

Drabinski said he has performed a cost-benefit and engineering analysis of the proposed design of the Cudjoe system and claims that the life cycle costs of the grinder pumps have been “grossly” underestimated to make them a cheaper long-term solution than gravity lines.

He said the second part of the legal action is to compel FKAA to produce public records his group has been seeking for “weeks, maybe months in some cases.”

Drabinski says his analysis shows that the life-cycle costs of the grinder pumps versus the gravity lines could be as much as $30 million higher over the anticipated life of the sewer system.

“The gravity may, and we stress may, cost more in the short term, but the grinder pumps will cost more in the long run,” said Drabinski.

He brought his concerns to the Board of County Commissioners a few months ago and the commissioners did not agree with his assessment, voting to allow FKAA officials to continue with the construction of the  gravity/grinder pump hybrid system unimpeded.

Drabinski also filed as an intervenor during the bond validation hearing last week that will eventually allow Monroe County and FKAA to borrow the first $40 million in State Revolving Loan Funds. He said the decision from the hearing officer on whether FKAAA followed the proper process in completing the state Department of Environmental Protection application might take two or three months depending on appeals.

“We only want the county to do this thing (sewer system) right,” said Drabinski.

County Engineer Kevin Wilson has told the BOCC that he and the FKAA engineers involved in the project feel as though the hybrid system to be used is one that “will be cost-effective and will be a good system.”

County and FKAA officials were unavailable for comment prior to presstime Wednesday night.

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