BOCC eliminates over 1,100 grinder pumps

By Steve Estes

Monroe’s Board of County Commissioners Wednesday decided to eliminate another 1,180 low-pressure grinder pumps from the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.

A Cudjoe Key based group, the Sir Isaac Newton Coalition, has been fighting against the installation of grinder pumps in areas the group considers high density for nearly eight months. As that battle unfolded in front of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, the BOCC and finally the courts, residents in other areas began to question why they had subdivisions where a hybrid mix of gravity and grinder systems were planned.

County Commissioner  Danny Kolhage also questioned why that wasn’t done.

After confirming that the cost per equivalent dwelling unit was similar or lower than the EDU cost for the Cudjoe and Sugarloaf additions rbought up by Mayor George Neugent, Kohage made it clear that he intended to get gravity systems for that area as well.

The issue made the agenda because Neugent agreed with the coalition that what he thought he was getting for county dollars in the dense areas of Cudjoe and Sugarlaof weren’t grinder pumps.

“I have no issue with the use of grinder pumps, but my issue is with what we thought we were getting versus what we got,” said Neugent.

County Engineer Kevin Wilson said that it would cost an additional $2.5 million to convert the 236 grinder pumps on Cudjoe and Sugarloaf in the at-issue subdivisions to gravity systems, including the additional paving.

The contractor is required to pave fully whatever lane is damaged for gravity pipes, and the county has agreed to pave the other lane during the mobilization to save costs.

The commission also agreed on a 3-2 vote to add another $7.4 million to the cost of the project to eliminate the grinder pumps planned for one area on Upper Sugarloaf Key and four areas in Big Pine Key.

Under the newest approval, 46 grinder pump units on Loggerhead Road on Upper Sugarloaf Key will be converted to gravity pipes. In the Big Pine south basin, 129 pumps will be converted to gravity as will 66 in Big Pine north basin.

The largest overhauls will be in the Eden Pines Subdivision where there are 320 grinder pumps planned in hybrid areas, and in the Doctor’s Arm Subdivision where there are 384 grinder pumps slated for action.

“We looked at this issue two months ago,” said FKAA Project Engineer Tom Walker. “We identified similar subdivisions on Big Pine Key to those on Cudjoe and Sugarloaf and found that the costs wre a little cheaper than the EDU cost for those latter areas.”

Walker explained that when the county asked for conceptual plan estimates in 2007 and the total came back at more than $200 million, commissioners asked for plans using alternative technologies.

“That’s what we gave using more grinder pumps,” said Walker.

Though she wound up on the short end of the 3-2 vote to approve the move, Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said that her problem was in changing the plans to suit separate areas, particularly when the plans are nearly complete.

Walker said he felt that the change in plans might add some time to the completion date, but knowing now rather than a month from now helps.

The county is supposed to have advanced wastewater systems in the ground available for resident hook up by December 31, 2015.

The time frame is tight already.

Commissioner David Rice also said that he had little trouble with the use of grinder pumps, “We knew that more remote areas would have to use grinder pumps. But I also expected to see gravity pipes in the more dense areas.”

Rice voted against the proposal, but said that he simply wanted more information on what is entailed in the conversions before committing more than $7 million in infrastructure sales tax money to the project additions.

Cudjoe Key businessman Walt Drabinski, who has been the leader of the Newton Coalition was elated by the BOCC vote.

“After eight months of fighting over sewer design in the Lower Keys, we won the vote today,” Drabinski posted on his Facebook site. “In the end we will save millions of dollars in long-term operating costs and have a much simpler and environmentally friendly system.”

In another move,the commission voted to add money to the project costs to allow FKAA to purchase the grinder pumps in bulk to save money on the purchases. Officials did not say how much of that approval would come back to county coffers with the purchase of less than 1,800 grinder pumps instead of the 2,800 originally slated. The BOCC also voted to add money for the purchase and installation of remote monitoring equipment for the grinder pumps that would transmit signals to FKAA if the pumps ceased operating at peak efficiency. Again, fewer of those units will be required with the decrease in the number of grinder pumps slated for the system.

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