Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Garbage and grinder pumps top list

Monroe County commissioners could reverse their position on two important, multi-million dollar issues when they meet Wednesday in Key West.

Commissioner Heather Carruthers will ask her fellow commissioners to "reconsider the vote" it took last month to remove competitive bidding requirements from its trash service contracts. Carruthers maintained the commission's decision still allowed for the county to put trash contracts out to bid, but no longer required it, she said.

"I think there was a lot of confusion by the public about what it meant," said Carruthers, arguing that the public felt the county would automatically renew its contracts with the current trash service providers.

Carruthers voted in favor of the policy change, but argued she still felt that the county's contracts with its four trash service providers should be put out to bid.

Five years ago, the commission voted to renew its contract with the current waste haulers -- Waste Management, Marathon Garbage, Keys Sanitation in Key Largo and Ocean Reef. The contracts total roughly $12 million a year.

Commissioner David Rice was the only commissioner who voted to keep the competitive bidding clause in its code. County Mayor George Neugent left last month's commission meeting before the vote on competitive bidding occurred. He had to attend a meeting out of state that dealt with millions of dollars in BP fine money coming to Florida and other Gulf of Mexico states.

The county is in negotiations with its current providers to keep residential and commercial rates the same, County Administrator Roman Gastesi said.

The roughly 30,000 residents in unincorporated Monroe County pay $404 a year for trash service, which entitles them to two garbage pick-ups and one recycle pick-up a week.

Monthly commercial rates vary by as much as $40 a month to $362 a month depending on the number of cans and number of pick-ups a week.

If negotiations breakdown, the county can put the contracts out to bid. The trash contracts are set to expire in September 2014, but the county wants the contracts approved soon so it can start on new recycling and yard waste initiatives, said Sustainability Program Manager Rhonda Haag.

On Wednesday, Mayor Neugent will ask his fellow commissioners to support changing plans and technology for portions of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Treatment System, which will serve residents from Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key.

Neugent wants the commission to ask the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, which partners with the county on sewer and water projects, to place gravity sewage collection systems in densely populated areas of Cudjoe, Sugarloaf and Summerland keys, instead of installing low pressure systems and grinder pumps there.

Residents have pleaded with the county for months to change the design plans for the $150-million plus project, but the County Commission and Aqueduct Authority had refused to change the designs.

The County Commission voted in June not to research changing the designs and removing grinder pumps and low pressure systems from the densely populated areas.

Last month, Cudjoe Key resident Walt Drabinski filed a lawsuit demanding the county uses gravity systems in densely populated areas.

The change in technology should cost about $2 million to implement, Neugent and Aqueduct Authority officials said. The county is responsible for raising and collecting the money for sewer projects, and the Aqueduct Authority is responsible for designing and building them.

"We listened to what they want to do," Aqueduct Authority Executive Director Kirk Zuelch said. "We already have contracts in place and crews in the field. We need to zero in on a design."

tohara@keysnews.com

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