KEY LARGO -- Islamorada's pipeline to the Key Largo sewage treatment plant got off to a rocky start last week.
Hours after construction crews began working in the median at mile marker 99, the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District's Weiler Engineering directed them to stop because local authorities had not been notified that the project had begun.
After several phone calls, meetings and email exchanges, the project got back under way Monday, Feb. 25. Installing the pipeline in that area is expected to take about five weeks and must meet an April 1 deadline, according to Richard Crow, operations manager for Layne Engineering, who is installing the village's sewer pipeline.
That deadline cannot be missed, according to Florida Department of Transportation officials, who are calling for the pipeline project to be completed as soon as possible. FDOT has long-scheduled construction work, including installing a bayside bicycle, path that must begin April 1.
Hearing that the work had been halted, Javier Manso, a project manager with HDR Engineering, who is in charge of the FDOT work, fired off emails to village officials warning them that if they failed to meet the April 1 deadline, they would be held financially liable for any claims. Manso also took offense that the work stopped, especially after FDOT expedited the permitting process.
When news of the construction reached the Key Largo Wastewater Board, complaints and accusations were thrown at the village. Key Largo board members were irritated that they weren't kept abreast of the project.
"Don't mess with Key Largo until you have your ducks in a row," board member Steve Gibbs said.
Board member David Asdourian wanted the district to demand that the village put off the construction until next month, instead of at the height of the town's busy season. If that means fines for Islamorada, then they need to pay them, he said.
Board member Andy Tobin, however, said the sewer district shouldn't get in the village's way since the permits had already been issued. Slowing down or stopping permitted construction could open up the district to possible lawsuits, he said.
The work caught more than just Key Largo politicians by surprise. Village Council members also were in the dark.
Islamorada Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn, who serves as the village's liaison to the sewer district, said he was unaware of the construction in Key Largo. Ed Castle of Weiler Engineering, who regularly updates the board on Layne Construction's activities, also said he didn't know about the construction start time.
"This was a clear communication breakdown," Castle said.
Layne, which is responsible for notifying the affected Key Largo areas, did speak to local businesses and residents about the work, Crow told the Free Press.
But Key Largo Chamber of Commerce President Craig Cope said he was concerned about lack of information being floated around. He said his organization could have helped alert membership about construction if he had been contacted in advance.
"If I know what's going on, I can send out an email to all of my members in just a couple of minutes," Cope said.
Cope said the pipeline work could have a negative impact on businesses if the construction, as expected, slows down traffic.
"It's traditionally a congested intersection," he said. "It's our downtown."