Anti-pump group takes legal action

By Steve Estes

The local group opposed to the installation of individual grinder pumps on private property to serve as part of a central sewage collection system for the Cudjoe Regional service area last Friday filed suit in the 16th Circuit Court in yet another attempt to stop, or at least limit, the pump installations.

In the court filing, Dump the Pumps claims that proposed design of the Cudjoe Regional does not meet the minimum state standards I the Florida Administrative Code and therefore can’t be permitted.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is the permitting agency for the system which is being built by the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority under an agreement with the Monroe Board of County Commissioners.

Under that agreement, the BOCC funds the construction costs while FKAA builds, operates and maintains the system in the future.

DEP has issued permits for every sector of the system except the area known as Big Pine south, and digging has commenced in all those locations in some fashion.

The Cudjoe Regional is anticipated to serve about 7,500 properties, covering everything from Lower Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key.

Dump the Pumps also claims in the legal action that the system as designed fails to protect the fragile Florida Keys ecosystem in any meaningful fashion, “or even improves upon the existing on-site treatment systems.”

Prior to the completion of the Cudjoe Regional, which may be mid-2016, every property is served by some type of on-site sewage treatment system from septic tanks to small package plants. The state nearly 20 years ago mandated that the Keys upgrade wastewater treatment to advanced standards and the BOCC chose central collection systems as the means to do that.

The legal action filed last week asks that the courts force DEP to suspend the permits on the project on Big Pine, claiming that the design will result in “loss of sewer service, raw sewage spills into residential yards, streets, the environment and/or backups into homes.

The individual grinder pumps slated to be used in the Cudjoe Regional on about 1,300 properties require electrical power to operate. The group says that a hurricane will cut power to the area for extended periods, leaving the home’s sewage system inoperable.

FKAA says that it has plans to deploy truck-mounted portable generators after a storm with crews that will pump out the grinder pits on a rotating basis. Officials say each truck can do about 100 homes per day. Dump the Pumps says that will fall woefully short of preventing raw sewage spillage in the days following a storm with extended power outages.

The group also claims that critical aspects of the system design were manipulated to accommodate the use of the slow-pumping E-One grinder pump, a decision made without competitive bidding, and to make the transmission force main appear more robust than it is.

“The design and construction plans place the environment and health of the people at great risk.”

The request for administrative action filed by Dump the Pumps claims that there will be insufficient scouring velocity throughout the system to prevent major blockages even while running at peak efficiency.

The group also voices concerns that the pump itself isn’t explosion proof as required by state guidelines, and calls the passive vent installed on the pump pits unqualified as a mechanical ventilator to prevent the build up of hazardous gasses such as methane.

The group also contends that in an area such as Big Pine, where many homes sit vacant for months on end out of season, potentially explosive gasses will have more of a chance to build up in the system, causing risk to the homeowners when they return and use the plumbing for the first time.

The system originally was slated for 2,700 grinder pumps, but public pressure convinced the BOCC to convert just over half of those to gravity pipes, which in turn made the remaining pump stations eve more unreliable to meet minimum state codes, the suit claims.

The group claims that the system is technically flawed in other ways.

It claims the system is designed for less than 100 percent pump operation at any time, but when power is restored following a storm event, there is a chance that all the pumps and lift stations powered by the pumps will cut in at once, over-pressurizing the system and making it susceptible to leaks and equipment failure.

With that failure could come undetected leaks from pipes or pump pits into the surrounding environment, which on Big Pine contains the largest collection of fresh water lenses in the Keys, a factor in why the endangered Key Deer are pretty well limited to Big Pine and No Name Keys.

Overall, the legal filing contends that the system on Big Pine will not work as designed and will result in meaningful discharge into the surrounding environment.

The group is askig the court to forward the complaint to the Division of Administrative Hearings and to  suspend the current permit on Big Pine Key until the legal wrangling comes to a conclusion.

While this specific action deals with Big Pine Key, Dump the Pumps President Banks Prevatt, a Little Torch Key resident, has said that more action is coming to try and eliminate most, if not all, grinder pumps everywhere in the Cudjoe Regional System

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