BOCC decision: Gravity? Grinder?

By Steve Estes

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners will take up a discussion Wednesday about reducing the number of low-pressure grinder pumps in use in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.

Mayor George Neugent, whose district two encompasses all of the proposed Cudjoe Regional service area, plans to ask his fellow commissioners to approve an additional $1.5 million to maybe $2 million to replace planned grinder pumps in areas of recognized high density on Cudjoe Key and Sugarloaf Key with gravity systems.

Neugent wants to specifically target the rest of Cudjoe Gardens where current plans call for a hybrid mix of gravity and grinder pumps, sometimes on neighboring streets for all gravity installations.

“It’s not that I have any issue with using grinder pumps in this system,” said Neugent. “I believe, with the research I’ve done independently, that grinder pumps will work for the Cudjoe Regional system.”

Neugent says his issue is more with what he thinks was a switch from what the BOCC thought it was getting for its money to what it actually got.

“I have a problem with the overall number of grinder pumps being proposed for these obviously higher density areas,” he said.

“I was under the impression, and I think many of y fellow commissioners were as well that those areas identified as more dense areas would be serviced with gravity systems where geography didn’t preclude the use of gravity pipes,” he said.

He also plans to suggest that Cudjoe Ocean Shores go the gravity instead of grinder route, as well as Alamanda Dr. and Shore Dr. on Lower Sugarloaf Key.

Neugent says he agrees with members of the Sir Isaac Newton Coalition that the subdivisions he’s targeting have been treated differently than other subdivisions in the Cudjoe Regional service area.

According to Negent’s backup data, he believes that every other subdivision in the Cudjoe Regional has been treated as an entire unit, with either gravity or grinder.

The Coalition has been fighting against the mixing of the two systems in higher density subdivisions for the last four months, preferring FKAA use gravity and eliminate the low-pressure pumps.

“I think we (BOCC) were all blindsided by the deviaiton to grinder pumps from gravity in some of the areas where the density is highest. In past projects by the FKAA (Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority), I don’t see a history of mixing the two systems like this. Everywhere gravity was feasible, it was used,” he said.

“The FKAA only used alternative treatments when the geography made it prohibitively expensive to use gravity, or where the density was very sparse,” said Neugent.

If the rest of the county commission agrees with Neugent’s proposal, about 236 homes will be taken off the low-pressure grinder pump pipes and placed on gravity pipes.

According to Neugent’s information, the additional cost to upgrade to gravity for those homes is about $1.5 million. Because streets with gravity pipes will be disrupted more than streets with low-pressure pipes, the estimate adds about $640,000 for paving to meet county standards.

But an independent estimate of costs from the Newton Coalition suggests that the actual increase might be more like $1.54 million for both phases, installation and paving.

“This issue has dragged out very publicly for too long,” said Neugent. “If there is an issue that we need to deal with, this could have been easily resolved by having the Aqueduct come talk to the commissioners and explain why they deviated from our initial expectations.”

Neugent has been highly critical of what he calls a serious “lack of communication” between FKAA officials and county staff and BOCC members.

“It is my sincere hope that someone from FKAA will be at Wednesday’s meeting so they can tell us if there is some fatal flaw in our reasoning,” said Neugent.

The Newton Coalition recently filed legal action against FKAA and the county seeking a stop-work injunction until the validity of the decision tree used to determine gravity or grinder has been re-evaluated, or barring resistance from FKAA, decided by a court.

A possible switch from grinder to gravity isn’t the only cost-increasing decision the BOCC will be asked to make Wednesday.

Staff is asking for a funding increase of nearly $660,000 to purchase remote monitoring equipment for the proposed grinder pumps in the Cudjoe Regional.

According to FKAA Project Engineer Tom Walker, the monitors will notify FKAA when a particular system is operating outside normal parameters so they can dispatch repair crews to the location before a small problem becomes a big one.

Staff is also asking for about $320,000 to allow for the installation of emergency generator input receptacles on the individual grinder pumps.

Those receptacles, says Walker, will allow FKAA crews to pump down the holding tanks in the event of an extended power outage. The receptacle will also allow property owners with a generator that supports 240-volt output to pump the tanks down on their own.

Staff is also recommending that the BOCC add Little Palm Island to the service area for the Cudjoe Regional at a cost of about $454,000.

According to County Engineer Kevin Wilson, that cost will be mostly offset by the assessment fee charged the island resort just south of Little Torch Key.

Wilson says that the assessment fee for the resort should be about 92 EDUs, returning just over $400,000 to county coffers for the project.

Other issues aside, Neugent said he wants the BOCC to air out the gravity versus grinder question, “And we see where the chips fall. We need to get this question answered sooner rather than later when it could start costing significant dollars in delays.”

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