ISLAMORADA -- Construction-related complaints have been minimal just over a month into the new Islamorada sewer project.
But homeowners in middle Plantation Key have expressed more concern about the connection points that system engineers have designated for their properties.
Crews began work in the Plantation Key Colony neighborhood and in middle Plantation Key on Nov. 5 as part of the village's $113 million sewer project. Between then and Dec. 11, the public relations staff for general contractor Reynolds Water Islamorada had received eight complaints related to trenching and other construction work, according to a call log the company is keeping.
Most of the calls were quickly resolved to the satisfaction of the customer, the log and Free Press interviews suggest.
"I think we've done a great job on this project -- a lot more than we thought we'd do," Construction Manager Richard Crow said. "Construction is a heavy job, a bother to the residents. But we try to clean up."
One property that has experienced significant problems during the first month-plus of construction is owned by Jim and Alicia Kubida. The Kubidas reported a sewer backup into their Plantation Key Colony yard on Dec. 5. According to Reynolds spokeswoman Jennifer Miller, the backup was caused by an equipment malfunction in the vacuum can that connects the Kubidas' home to the main collection system. Sewer workers fixed the problem quickly, but on Dec. 17 Jim Kubida noticed a second backup coming out of the same can.
Since work in the Colony involves replacing a portion of the 2006 collection system, rather than installing new vacuum cans, it's unclear whether the backups were even related to the construction, Miller said.
"All I know, I've never noticed it until they started the repair work," Kubida said Monday.
In another incident, crews ruptured an unmarked water line in the Indian Mound neighborhood on Nov. 30, leading to an unannounced interruption in some homes' water service.
Pueblo Street resident Walter Hamilton called Reynolds to complain about the incident and was pleased with the results.
"They broke a pipe and they fixed it within a couple hours," he told the Free Press. "They were very responsive."
The handful of other construction-related complaints have mainly concerned staging areas and the inconvenience caused by work crews and torn-up roads.
In one example, Ted Benbow, a resident of the Woods Corner complex at the front of Plantation Key Colony, complained on Nov. 30 that workers were parking in front of his house, thereby causing a mess and making access difficult. Prior to that call, Benbow said, he had asked several workers to move their trucks. "They'd move and there would be another truck," he said.
But Benbow said the parking problem was resolved after he took his complaints to the Reynolds Water customer service team.
"I felt they did a good job of addressing it," he said.
Miller said that small incidents are inevitable in a project like this one.
"It's little inconveniences and we're addressing them as quickly as possible," she said.
With construction-related complaints relatively sparse, the bigger issue that has cropped up early in the middle Plantation Key work relates to points where homes connect to the system.
Engineers selected those points based upon overall cost efficiency for the public system. But what suits the whole project isn't necessarily the most convenient for all homeowners, whose cost to tie their home to the connection point is largely determined by the length of the pipeline.
So far, 35 to 40 middle Plantation Key homeowners have requested that their connection point be relocated, Tom Brzezinski from system designer Wade Trim told the Village Council last week.
One of those requests came from Donny Lang of Key Heights Drive, who explained at the Nov. 13 council meeting that he has an unusually hilly property for the Keys.
The location that his connection point is currently sited will require him to move sewage down a slope from the home and then back upwards. Lang said he explained the situation years ago in a pre-design survey that Wade Trim put out.
"It's going to be very infeasible financially," he said.
Though he didn't give a specific number, Brzezinski told the council that Wade Trim had already been able to address some of the relocation requests. The engineering firm will be able to look at more such requests going forward due to an amendment to the Reynolds contract that the council unanimously approved last week.
The change creates a mechanism under which property owners can ask for their connection point to be moved to a preferred location, provided they pay for the difference in cost to the village.
Responding to concerns from middle Plantation Key residents who were caught off-guard by various aspects of the sewer work, council members said the Reynolds team needs to do a better job of reaching out to residents before construction starts in their neighborhoods.
"We need to figure out how to get to every homeowner," Councilwoman Deb Gillis said.