Gravity/grinder decision waits another month

By Steve Estes

What was supposed to be maybe, perhaps, possibly, but then again maybe not, the defining discussion on whether any other areas in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System might be converted from grinder pumps to gravity systems became instead a blank space on the agenda of the Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday.

The BOCC has been wrestling with what areas to convert to gravity from grinder, or whether to do so at all, for the better part of three months. At the November meeting, the commissioners had requested that the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority bring out some pricing for converting neighborhoods similar to what the BOCC had already approved for conversion so that the board could decide, maybe, once and for all what else might be done in that realm.

But FKAA officials, who did not show up for the meeting, said they weren’t sure they had accurate numbers to give to the commission on Wednesday and suggested that the agenda item be withdrawn and returned next month at the January 16 meeting.

That move didn’t sit well with County Commissioner George Neugent, in whose District Two all of the Cudjoe Regional properties reside.

“I am against pulling this item from the agenda,” said Neugent. “We can’t continue to drag this discussion out and at least I’d like to see someone from the Aqueduct here to explain why we don’t have numbers we can work with.”

County Engineer Kevin Wilson said that his office received the conversion estimates Friday afternoon and immediately noticed “some anomalies” that brought the estimates into question.

“We’re not sure we have really good numbers for you, so we thought it best to withdraw the item,” said Wilson.

None of the estimates were available for public review.

County Administrator Roman Gastesi, who announced the agenda item deletion Monday afternoon, told the commission that it could still hear the itme and take action if it wished, “But you won’t have the correct numbers on which to base a decision.”

County Commissioner Danny Kolhage, who has been a proponent of converting as many neighborhoods to gravity as is affordable, said that making decision without concrete numbers isn’t something the commission should be comfortable doing, but echoed Neugent’s sentiment in wanting an explanation on why the correct numbers weren’t available for Wednesday’s meeting.

Absent any decision from the BOCC to the contrary, the contractors for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority working on the Cudjoe Regional now continue to work to existing plans, laying small diameter pipe for grinder pump systems in those designated subdivisions and larger diameter pipe for gravity in those designated subdivisions.

Eventually, the amount of small pipe in the ground might reach the point where changes become prohibitively expensive, is the fear of a local resident group that has been gearing up in the last two months to fight grinder pumps on all private property except those where gravity would be prohibitively expensive.

Local real estate agent Banks Prevatt, also a Little Torch Key resident and on a street where grinder pumps are due to be installed, said that when he asked that specific question of the FKAA earlier this week, he was told that there isn’t enough in costs in small pipe in the ground as yet to force that “no-return” scenario.

“I’m told they’ll just cut off the small pipe where ever it might be and put larger pipe in next to it. But eventually it has to reach a point of diminishing returns,” said Prevatt.

He has put together a sizable group of local residents seeking to fight grinder pump installation, a group that has already raised more than $4,000 for legal help.

“Right now our attorney is looking for that big cannon we can pull out to maybe try and stop the small pipe from going in the ground until the questions are answered. We didn’t want this delay because it makes us wait to plan a strategy going forward,” said Prevatt.

He said it will give the group more time to organize and plan public strategies and “get more politically active with individual commissioners,” as well as set up a politically correct method to funnel money into and out of the organization.

“Our overall goal won’t change. We want to get as many grinder pumps out of the system as we can. We think they’re a bad idea,” said Prevatt.

Anyone wishing to get further information about the organization or how to contribute to the cause can call Prevatt at 305-872-5264 or can temporarily make donations to Sholwater Property, Inc., PO Box 1956, Big Pine Key, FL 33043.

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