No Name sewer decision looms

By Steve Estes

As legal challenges swirl around the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System and crews continue to dig trenches and put pipe in the ground, there are still some planning events taking place that will shape the eventual look of the system.

Monroe County and Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority officials met Wednesday afternoon to discuss some of those issues, and in most cases came away realizing there still isn’t enough information to put anything solid to paper as yet.

One of the remaining questions in the Cudjoe Regional centers on the tiny island of No Name Key.

A group of No Name Key residents succeeded in getting the Board of County Commissioners to acquiesce last year and allow commercial electrical power on the island.

But that doesn’t solve the issue outright of how the county actually brigs No Name Key up to state standards before the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline.

One of the reasons a solution is so elusive on No Name Key is that just under half the homes on the island took advantage of the ability to hook into the commercial power grid. The others either haven’t yet hooked in, or have no intention of hooking in.

And that raises some power issues for sewer planners.

The state’s approved on-site waste treatment systems require some power draw. Whether every home that remained primarily powered by solar systems, generators or a combination of both has the extra power to run an aerobic septic system pump hasn’t been determined.

“There’s still too much up in the air for us to realistically try to make a final determination on what types of systems will go in on No Name Key,” said County Engineer Kevin Wilson.

The range of issues is much broader than just power needs, however.

No Name Key has never been transferred into the county’s “hot spot” service area where central collection pipes would be a given.

“In all the research we’ve done, we don’t see where No Name Key has ever been anything but a cold spot where on-site systems were the preferred treatment method.

Of the approximately 7,500 properties that will be serviced through the Cudjoe Regional central system, with the plant on Blimp Road on Cudjoe Key, about 150 are still slated for enhanced septic tanks. And 43 of those are on No Name Key. Another larger belt of on-site systems is located on Big Torch Key.

Those properties have been deemed too remote, also known as too expensive, to reach out with a central collection pipe.

“But we don’t know if we can use the on-site systems that are available right now for No Name Key, so we need to do more research,” said Wilson.

Discussions on how to upgrade sewer systems on No Name Key have run the gamut from some type of on-site system that will run on minimal power needs to a “whole island collection system specific to No Name Key,” said Wilson.

But that raises further questions.

“Because of the environmentally sensitive nature of the island, do we have a piece of land we could use to develop a whole-island collection system?” asked Wilson.

The eventual system type selected for No Name Key may force residents there to fork over the same $4,500 system development fee per house that everyone else in the Cudjoe Regional has been billed.

“FKAA has the opt-in program where they supply the on-site system, own it and maintain it, and the resident pays the development fee and the same monthly charges as other users of the Cudjoe Regional.” said Wilson.

Those who opt into the FKAA program for on-site systems will have the remainder of their tank paid for by a grant. Those who opt out of the on-site program will have to go it alone and install a system that meets state standards and pay all maintenance charges themselves.

Officials also Wednesday discussed how to develop a program to subsidize some small businesses in the Cudjoe Regional service area.

Because more remote business properties will be on grinder pumps instead of gravity pipes, it becomes necessary in may instances to establish ift stations to get the effluent to the pipes in the street.

Wilson said that the county has set aside about $2 million to tackle the problem, but FKAA has more research to do before the program will be ready for decision by the BOCC.

Both issues are planned to go before the county commission in June.

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