Group: sewer not issue; Grinder pumps problem

By Steve Estes

The anti-grinder pump group Dump the Pumps continues to ratchet up the heat on Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority officials and state and federal permitting agencies.

Dump the Pumps has been a vocal opponent of the use of low-pressure grinder pumps in the large Cudjoe Regional Wastewwater System, claiming that the small pipe technology will eventually be bad for the sensitive Florida Keys ecosystem when massive failures begin to occur in the mechanical pumps, and also in rate payers’ wallets for the same reason.

But Banks Prevatt, group president, said he is fearful that the group’s message is getting lost in a bevy of action and counter-action across many fronts.

In a recent letter to the group, Prevatt wrote, “I was told that we may be getting a reputation for being against sewers, and that we are simply trying to be disruptive and bring all sewer construction to a stop.”

That, he says emphatically “Is wrong.”

“Our fight is simple. A substandard sewer system mandated by politicians rather than engineers, putting grinder pumps in our yards, is the fight,” he wrote.

He tells the group that the project overseer, FKAA officials, have repeatedly said that they would prefer to install gravity lines where ever possible. “It always works and has no moving parts.”

But the FKAA directors have also said that they can only build the system the county gives them the money for.

Estimates are that it will take another $25 million or so to convert those areas that could still be converted from grinder pump technology to gravity lines, and would push the total cost of the project well over the $200 million mark for central sewer service to the Lower Keys.

The county commission balked big time the first time FKAA came to them with a rough estimate of $200 million to serve the approximately 9,000 units encompassed by the Cudjoe Regional, sent engineers back to the drawing board with a target closer to $150 million, and got back the hybrid gravity/grinder system slated to go into the ground over the next 18 months.

“All we want are grinders out of our front yards,” said Prevatt. “However, with the trail of deception perpetrated on property owners by our elected land appointed officials, maybe the system should be stopped. Even at this late date, an independent third party review would probably be wise.”

He points out that the group is still trying to talk to the county about changes even though the BOCC members said the discussion was over in January when they approved the conversion of about 250 properties from grinder to gravity. The group is also in the midst of preparing for state administrative hearings in early August after challenging seven of the state Department of Environmental Protection permits needed to put the system into most of Big Pine Key.

“I concede that our attack is broad and may appear as though we are fighting sewers in the Keys. This is not true. Our fight is against a politically designed inferior central sewer system which includes the intrusion of grinder pumps on private property,” wrote Prevatt.

If it’s absolutely necessary to use grinders, then put them in the street, suggests Prevatt. That way no property owner has to give up an easement for installation or maintenance, power can be dropped and paid for by FKAA from the public electric lines and all work needed on the pumps “Which will be extensive,” says Prevatt, can be performed on public lands.

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