Little Palm may join central system

By Steve Estes

Monroe County officials continue to look at suggestions to increase the size of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.

This time, they were pitched the idea of adding exclusive resort Little Palm Island to the mix.

According to County Engineer Kevin Wilson, adding Little Palm to the central collection system should be cost neutral.

Currently Little Palm uses its own package treatment plant, but does receive its water through a Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority pipe that extends from Long Beach Road on Big Pine Key.

Wilson says there are between 90 and 95 EDUs to be served on Little Palm Island. The EDUs, or equivalent dwelling units, are estimated based on the average water flow to the island resort. An EDU is roughly equal to the average water flow for a typical single-family home in the Florida Keys.

“The assessments charged to the resort should offset the cost of getting them a pipe,” said Wilson.

He told commissioners Tuesday that there is an existing abandoned water pipe that serves the island that could be used, if it tests well, to bring wastewater back to a collection pipe at the end of Long Beach Road.

If the county hadn’t agreed to add Long Beach Road to the central system a few months back, the extension to Little Palm would never have had a chance to materialize.

Of course, a pipe to Little Palm can’t be in the immediate future because the county still has a planning prohibition on its books that won’t allow connections to public infrastructure that is either in or must pass through a Coastal Barrier Resource System area.

Little Palm Resort does both.

The county is working diligently to lift that prohibition. The prohibition kept No Name Key from commercial power for years. That island got electrified earlier this year when the county chose not to appeal a court ruling allowing the extension of lines through a CBRS.

But for areas that haven’t yet filed a legal action over the CBRS issue, including Little Palm Island, the prohibition remains in place.

The Board of County Commissioners was scheduled to take up first reading Tuesday of the new ordinance to change the CBRS language and lift the prohibition, but delayed that action until at least next month.

Pipes wouldn’t get to Little Palm for at least another 18 months anyway, said Wilson. The action to lift the prohibition for central sewers is expected to be completed in February.

There are still permitting issues with running public sewer lines to Little Palm Island.

Because of the CBRS designation, the county, through its sewer partner FKAA, can’t use federal money for the installation of pipes.

Money to pay for the construction of the Cudjoe Regional is being borrowed from the State Revolving Loan Fund. That fund may get some subsidies from federal dollars, said Wilson.

“There are questions we don’t yet know the answers to, but we’ll get them,” said Wilson.

Wilson told commissioners that the resort would have to be served by a low-pressure pump system since gravity would probably be impossible to permit.

Wilson also previewed some coming requests for additional money for the Cudjoe Regional project.

He said he expects FKAA to come to the county commission for about $650,000 to install remote monitoring technology on the 2,800 or so low-pressure grinder pumps that are to be installed in private yards as part of the project.

Those monitors will notify a central facility if a pump fails or is acting outside normal operating parameters to allow maintenance crews to respond before homes are flooded with raw sewage.

Wilson said FKAA will also be coming to ask for just over $100,000 to add emergency generator receptacles to the grinder pumps. Those receptacles will allow FKAA emergency crews to hook into the pumps and empty the holding tanks in cases of extended power outages. The homeowner can also hook into that receptacle with the proper 240-volt connection from a personal generator and accomplish the same emergency pump out.

Although it is expected to be little or no issue, no one has yet coordinated with Keys Energy what happens when a tenant moves from a house and cuts off the electrical power to the grinder pump. Only those homes with ground-level drains that feed the sewer system are expected to be affected.

Wilson reported that the contractor for the central treatment plant at the county’s transfer station on Blimp Road on Cudjoe Key has begun pouring the concrete. That project is projected to be completed in about 18 months.

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