October 4, 2017

KEY LARGO — The Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District board reassessed insurance policies and discussed storm response during its first meeting after Hurricane Irma.

The five-member board last week unanimously renewed its insurance policies for a total savings of $85,000 from the prior fiscal year. 

The bulk of the savings are from the district’s Risk and Inland Marine policy. A catastrophe study performed by the carrier revealed a smaller probable loss of $2.6 million to the district’s $23.5 million in assets with a $3.5 million insured limit.

The new policies have a two-year rate guarantee and early cancellations or any changes made will be penalized.

During Hurricane Irma, the Key Largo district was the only sewer utility whose customers never lost the ability to flush, aside from a smattering of remote properties not connected to the central treatment plant that rely instead on electric-powered grinder pumps.

Plant manager Jered Primicerio monitored the district’s computerized control system remotely during the storm and was alerted to high water levels at two of the three tanks where sewage is treated. To resolve the issue, Primicerio directed an employee who didn’t evacuate through a step-by-step process to bypass the tanks’ filtration system manually.

“Luckily, we were able to avoid a big mess, and we learned a lot from this,” Primicerio told the board. “We were in constant contact.”

Primicerio suspects a gust of wind triggered a storm float to flip that caused solids to back up.

“We had no room to take on water and found ourselves in a unique situation,” he said. “Tommy Gould from the collections department drove in for us, and I walked him through valving the plant and saved us from overflowing.”

Staff discussed housing the storm floats differently to automatically bypass the tank filters during a storm event. 

The board also discussed the district’s mutual aid agreement through Florida’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, or FlaWARN. Under the terms of the agreement, the district received post-Irma relief workers from the city of Stuart and Martin County.

District Interim General Manager Peter Rosasco said the two government entities must be paid for the hours their employees worked and that he’d be filing eligible reimbursement paperwork with Federal Emergency Management Agency to comply with the deadline.

Rosasco also singled out Commissioner Sue Heim for her leadership role in the aftermath of Irma.

“Commissioner Heim was a tremendous help,” he said. “She was the first one back to hold down the district.”

Rosasco said the storm was instructive from a resource standpoint.

“We learned a lot of things from this,” he said. “The two most important things are fuel and electricity.”

The district’s main plant ran on generator power for a few hours when Irma rolled through, and despite filling up every available tank prior to the storm, the district ran low on fuel supply.

The district will stock more fuel prior to a storm event, Rosasco said.


Other district news

Commissioner Steve Gibbs contacted the four remaining general manager candidates after the storm. Board and staff members, as of last week, had interviewed three candidates and have one more candidate to vet who had planned a vacation for the months of September and October. Jim Moore withdrew his candidacy.

The board also voted 4-1 to remove $6,600 in grinder pump charges for two homes on its Residential Unique Parcels list. Commissioner Andy Tobin was the sole dissenter.

A lawyer retained on behalf of the Silver Shores Homeowner’s Association has requested a meeting with engineers at the district headquarters regarding the association’s lawsuit against the district for $100,000 in damages for allegedly misinforming its engineers of the sewer tie-in pressure. The lawyer, on behalf of the retirement home community, will settle for $50,000.

The Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District board’s next meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 103355 Overseas Highway.

A copy of the agenda can be found at klwtd.org.