Florida Keys News
Thursday, February 27, 2014
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Grinder pump debate could head to court
Group takes stand and revokes OK for workers to enter their properties

A group protesting the use of grinder pumps in a Lower Keys central sewer system expects to file a lawsuit by the end of the week and have embarked on a minor civil disobedience campaign.

The group, Dump the Pumps, oppose Monroe County's and Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority's plans to place grinder pumps in people's yards, as part of a lower pressure sewer collection system. The grinder pumps are part of the $160 million Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System, the last major sewer projects in the Florida Keys.

The group wants the Aqueduct Authority and the county to connect all homes and businesses from Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key to the more desirable gravity sewer systems.

Last month, the County Commission refused to shell out $17.5 million to connect 915 homes on Big Pine Key and Little Torch Key. Instead opting to only connect 201 properties, which was not enough to appease Dump the Pumps members. The commission cited cost for a reason to not connect all properties to a gravity system.

More than 30 days ago, the group notified the county, Aqueduct Authority and Florida Department of Environment Protection that it would file a lawsuit if the agencies did not replace grinder pumps and low pressure systems with gravity systems.

Department of Environmental Protection requested the group give it until March 31 to resolve the issue, but the state agency would not require the Aqueduct Authority to postpone installing grinder pumps in the meantime.

The group's founder Banks Prevatt discussed the lawsuit with the group's attorney Lee Rohe on Saturday and the group plans too file a lawsuit by the end of the week, Prevatt said Wednesday.

"They basically gave us no choice," Prevatt said. "They have had their 30 days. The only way we will be heard is through legal action."

Dump the Pumps members have also embarked on a civil disobedience campaign by revoking the permission they gave for workers to come on their properties and install the grinder pumps. As of Wednesday, only one person had revoked permission, Aqueduct Authority Executive Director Kirk Zuelch said.

Others have taken it one step further and will be placing no trespassing signs on their properties to keep workers from placing the grinder pumps on their property.

"We are not setting things on fire, but people have started to go to the hardware store to buy no trespassing signs," Prevatt said.

Some grinder pumps have been installed on Sugarloaf, Ramrod and Little Torch keys, but none on Big Pine Key so far, Zuelch said.

The installation of the grinder pumps would be an environmental disaster, saying the pumps will fail during tropical storms and hurricanes when the power goes out, Dump the Pump members have argued. The pumps require electricity to run, and without it, the grinder pumps will cease operation. Raw sewage will overflow into the environment, or back up into homes, the group claims.

Aqueduct Authority officials contend that it would have back-up generators placed at pumping stations after big storms to power the collection systems.

Group members also argued the installation of a gravity system may cost more up front, but the ongoing maintenance of the low-pressure system with grinder pumps will be more expensive over time.

tohara@keysnews.com

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