Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
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Residents fight grinder systems
Group wants county, aqueduct to install gravity sewage collectors instead

Another group of angry Florida Keys residents has banded together to fight grinder-pump sewage collection systems, and they have not ruled out filing a lawsuit to stop the systems from being installed.

Residents on Big Pine, Ramrod and Cudjoe keys have joined forces, as part of yet-to-be-named coalition, to fight plans by the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and Monroe County to install grinder pumps in the roughly $150 million Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.

The bulky grinder pumps, which would be placed below ground in residents' yards, are part of lower-pressure sewer collection systems the aqueduct authority has proposed for the Cudjoe regional system.

The coalition of homeowners wants the county and aqueduct authority to forego using the low-pressure systems and install the more highly regarded gravity collection systems in about 800 homes, according to aqueduct authority officials.

On Monday, aqueduct authority staff was still working on cost estimates for the 800 properties, Executive Director Kirk Zuelch said.

If approved, it would be the second time in recent months the county and aqueduct authority have reduced the number of grinder pumps and expanded the use of gravity collection systems.

Members of the coalition and their attorney, Lee Rohe, met last week with aqueduct authority officials to review plans and discuss the Cudjoe regional project, said Banks Prevatt, a founder of the group.

Group members and county commissioners debated via email last week whether grinder pumps were the best technology for the Keys. Commissioners were scheduled to discuss the issue at their monthly commission meeting, but said they indefinitely postponed the discussion due to a lack of information.

Residents claim that low-pressure collection systems and grinder pumps are prone to saltwater intrusion and maintenance intense, which could result in the costs increasing over time. Also, maintenance could be problematic for residents, as workers might have to tear up yards to get to the pumps.

"We want gravity where it is appropriate," Prevatt said. "They picked the system not because it's the best but because it is cheaper. The residents of this county passed a referendum to extend the sales tax to support a fully funded (wastewater) system. The ballot should have read 'fully funded appropriate system.'"

Prevatt did not rule out filing a lawsuit to stop the installation of grinder pumps.

Aqueduct authority and county officials contend that the grinder pumps and lower-pressure systems are the best bang for the buck, and people are generally opposed to the grinder pumps because are they are being placed in their yards.

County Commissioner George Neugent, who represents the residents who will be served by the Cudjoe regional system, has been working with both residents and the aqueduct authority to come up with a fiscally responsible solution.

"It's a good system and it will work," Neugent said of grinder pumps and the low-pressure system. "I stand by it."

The county commission tentatively postponed last week's discussion on expanding the use of the more expensive gravity sewer collection systems to the January meeting. However, the discussion may have to be postponed another month, as county Mayor Sylvia Murphy will be in Cuba, and County Commissioner David Rice will be in Vietnam then, Neugent said.

On Monday, Neugent was working on having the meeting rescheduled, or having the county hold a special meeting in January to discuss the issue, he said.

The residents' latest request comes two months after the county commission agreed to expand the use of gravity sewer collection systems into several neighborhoods from Cudjoe Key to Big Pine Key.

Residents of those communities had opposed the county's use of low-pressure sewer collection and grinder pump technology and threatened a lawsuit, arguing that the low-pressure systems would be more expensive to maintain and not as effective as gravity in such densely populated communities. Providing gravity systems in those neighborhoods added an additional $10 million to $11 million in upfront costs to the Cudjoe Regional System, which will serve residents from Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key.

tohara@keysnews.com

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