The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority board will expand the use of gravity sewer collection systems if Monroe County gives the water and sewer utility more money for the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Treatment System.
On Wednesday, Aqueduct Authority board Chairman Bob Dean told a group of angry protesters that his agency supports using gravity technology, but the county has not allocated enough money to the project to expand its use versus grinder pumps.
The lack of funding is why the Aqueduct Authority has designed a hybrid system that uses both gravity technology and the lesser desirable low-pressure systems, which require the grinder pumps.
Those pumps, which the protesters claim will fail during major storms and hurricanes, are to be placed in residents' yards.
"This company supports gravity systems, and if the county gives us the money, we will do it," Dean said at Wednesday's Aqueduct Authority board meeting.
The protesters, mostly from Big Pine Key, held signs and spoke about how low-pressure systems and grinder pumps are not suitable for the Keys. The signs stated "Gravity and Justice For All" and "Dump the Pump."
The protesters argued that gravity may be more expensive upfront, but will be cheaper in the long term, as low-pressure systems and grinder pumps require a lot of maintenance.
"The (grinder) pumps break," Big Pine Key resident Cate Loughran said. "They only have a life of 10 years. They are sludge. They are the bottom of the barrel."
Loughran accused the county and the Aqueduct Authority of playing one off the other.
"It goes back and fourth," Loughran said. "Each agency blames the other. I feel like I am in a rat maze that has no conclusion."
County Project Development Division Director Kevin Wilson attended Wednesday's meeting and defended the county proposing grinder pumps and low-pressure systems for the $150 million Cudjoe Regional System.
"It (Cudjoe regional) has a robust design that will work," Wilson told the Aqueduct Authority board. "The life cycle cost over time is the optimal solution."
Wilson also responded to residents' criticism that Keys voters passed a referendum extending a 1-cent sales tax on the understanding that all the money would be used for wastewater projects. Wilson contended the county told voters that not all of the money would go to those projects.
The county commission is scheduled to discuss the issue at a special meeting on Jan. 31.