County would need to seek equity on pump issue

By Steve Estes

Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority officials have begun sending out a second round of requests for those property owners in planned areas for the installation of low-pressure grinder pumps to authorize easements and identify hook up locations for the pipe in the street.

There are areas on Little Torch Key where work is beginning to wind down on some low-pressure pipe areas without easements the FKAA requires from homeowners to get on the property and install the primary piece of the puzzle, the actual grinder pump and pit.

While Monroe County will own the grinder pump and pit and it will be maintained under a 99-year lease agreement by FKAA, private property owners must give their approval for the apparatus to be installed.

With the advent of some rather stiff opposition to the installation of grinder pumps as part of the Cudjoe Regional system by the grass roots group Dump the Pumps Inc., FKAA finds itself without the needed approvals from homeowners to dig the trenches and hook up the pumps and pits to the street.

FKAA’s installation responsibility ends when the pit gets hooked up to the street and the pump gets hooked into the homeowner-supplied electrical circuit at the house. From there, it is the property owner’s responsibility to hook the pit into the home drainage system and abandon the old septic tank.

But without easements, FKAA contractors can’t do their part.

And the contractor is getting close to leaving some subdivisions where grinder pumps are planned, without some pumps in place.

As part of its latest request, FKAA tells property owners that if the utility doesn’t receive homeowner approval for the easement, the work “may” have to be completed at a later date at the expense of the property owner.

That scenario leaves a dilemma for county policy makers, also known as the Monroe Board of County Commissioners.

“It’s a conversation we’ve not had as yet, but one we will have to have sooner rather than later,” said Kevin Wilson, county engineer.

His thought process is that the county won’t pay the contractor for work not performed as part of the contract. That could include a number of grinder pump installations where approval couldn’t be obtained from the property owner.

“I’m assuming we would request, and receive a change-order credit. That would leave that money allocated to the sewer project, but not spent,” said Wilson.

After that, it would become a policy decision by the BOCC on how to handle the issue.

“There is a question there of fundamental fairness,” said Wilson. “How would we not subsidize a certain portion of property owners where we have subsidized the others to the tune of x dollars?”

The average cost for grinder pump installation in the Cudjoe Regional is between $6,500 and $9,000 per unit, said Wilson.

“A lot of that depends on the density of the area, the configuration of the lot, the distance of the contractor run, and other things,” he said.

The question, he says, could become one of using the pot of money that might be left over to subsidize those homes that chose not to allow installation during the initial contractor work plan, but probably only to the amount subsidized on neighboring properties.

“Because we get economies of scale from one contractor mobilization, multiple properties, repetitive operations, that unit cost is lower than it’s going to be if we have to go out and do just one property at a time for those folks who change their minds later, or those who come on board if the legal action goes FKAA’s way,” said Wilson.

“While it wouldn’t be fundamentally fair to not subsidize like properties, neither would it be fundamentally fair to subsidize later properties at a higher rate than those being done now,” he said.

But that would become a question to be answered by the BOCC.

“I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to take advantage of everyone’s money to help them put in a system,” said County Administrator Roman Gastesi during an earlier conversation.”But there is always the question of equity across the system. It is definitely a question we are going to have to address in the very near future.”

The first of the system areas with large percentages of grinder pump installations planned won’t come on line until about the second quarter of 2015.

Dump the Pumps forces hope that many of those grinders will be gone from the system design by then through the various regulatory appeals and court actions the group has filed.

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