Florida Keys News
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
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Sewer work ahead of schedule

ISLAMORADA -- There have been some bumps in the road, but a bit more than a year into the village's $115 million sewer project, officials say the work is ahead of schedule.

"Not only has the construction work progressed very expeditiously, but the quality of the work that is going into the ground is good stuff," said Tom Brzezinski of village engineering watchdog Wade Trim.

Since Oct. 1, 2012, just days after the notice to proceed, the village has spent $30.7 million on the wastewater project, according to Finance Director Maria Aguilar. That includes money paid to Layne, known locally as Reynolds Water Islamorada, which is working on a $99 million construction contract. It also includes $3.3 million in payments to Wade Trim, village staff time expenses and approximately $2 million in payments to the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District, from which the village is purchasing plant capacity.

The results of those expenditures are easy to see. As of the end of October, Reynolds had completed the fix of the village's long-suffering original sewer system in north Plantation Key. In addition, sewers were 98 percent installed in middle Plantation Key and 35 percent installed in south Plantation Key, according to Wade Trim. Repaving in middle and north Plantation Key was 75 percent finished.

Pipeline work is also well underway. Eighty-five percent of the approximately 10-mile line that will take the village's waste from the town boundary at Tavernier Creek north to Key Largo's mile marker 100.5 sewer plant was installed by the end of October. Similarly, 85 percent of the middle Plantation Key pipeline is complete.

The pipeline under Tavernier Creek was finished in October and the pipeline underneath Snake Creek was placed into the ground just last week.

Windley Key is also starting to see some action, with 20 percent of that island's low-pressure line in place as of the end of October.

All told, said Brzezinski, Reynolds had completed 40.6 percent of its contracted work through October, though just 34 percent of the contract time had elapsed. Under state law, the sewer system must be complete by the end of 2015.

Still, the project hasn't always gone smoothly. Reynolds has been behind schedule in completing system designs since early on, said Brzezinski. Designs are now about two months behind schedule but almost complete. The village hopes they'll be finished by year's end.

"The good news is that despite that fact the construction work didn't take a great hit," Brzezinski said.

The larger snafus have come outside the actual work output. Most notably, the village's plan to make the approximately 500 Islamorada properties that are to be serviced by a low-pressure grinder pump system pay for the extra cost of installing the system created a maelstrom in the late summer and early fall. In response, the Village Council agreed to subsidize the properties to the tune of $6,500. The move will make the connection cost, on average, the same as it will be for the majority of village properties, which are to be connected to a vacuum sewer line. But it raised the village's price for the sewer project by $3.25 million.

Also plaguing the village for several months was the lawsuit of Venetian Shores resident Jim Bellizzi, who contends that most of the roads in the large south Plantation Key neighborhood are privately owned. The village won the case in late October, though Bellizzi plans to appeal. The dispute over the roads' status held up sewer construction in the neighborhood. The delay created tension between the village and Layne and led to a public relations quagmire when Layne sent the town a hostile letter in late September threatening to pursue financial damages.

The village now hopes to begin work in Venetian Shores in April, Village Manager Ed Koconis said last week.

All-in-all, however, the project is proceeding apace, officials say. The state has mandated that 25 percent of Islamorada must be able to connect to the sewer by June 1. With north Plantation Key's system having been constructed in 2006, that mainly means the pipeline from Plantation Key to Key Largo must be finished by that time. In addition, the pump station to be located on the site of the existing Plantation Key Colony plant must be operating.

Brzezinski says the village will get there on time.

Councilman Mike Forster says he believes his engineering consultant isn't merely blowing smoke.

"I'm comfortably happy," he said of the work being done on the project.


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