November 1, 2017

CHUCK WICKENHOFER/Free Press
A resident of Habitat Landing works to patch his roof after Hurricane Irma ripped through Big Pine Key. Residents of the housing community got help from a contractor to hook to the FKAA sewage system after the storm destroyed the private treatment plant to which Habitat Landing was previously connected.

CHUCK WICKENHOFER/Free Press A resident of Habitat Landing works to patch his roof after Hurricane Irma ripped through Big Pine Key. Residents of the housing community got help from a contractor to hook to the FKAA sewage system after the storm destroyed the private treatment plant to which Habitat Landing was previously connected.

BIG PINE KEY — Ever since Hurricane Irma tore through Big Pine Key, residents have been working to dig themselves out of the devastation the storm left.

That work is far from over, but a low-income housing community that lost sewer service is getting a boost from a contractor that is providing some plumbing services free of charge.

According to Julie Cheon, public information manager for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, Giannetti Contracting has stepped up for residents of Habitat Landing, whose package treatment plant was destroyed in the storm.

“Giannetti Contracting offered to do the lateral (line) connection free of charge,” Cheon said. “They thought it would be something nice to do to give back to the community. I can’t say enough about Giannetti; they’ve been a fabulous contractor to work with.”

The destruction of the private sewer plant forced the hand of those who had been using the privately-run sewage system to connect to the FKAA system, which they had been paying into though residents weren’t hooked up to it. The individual plumbing costs to connect could have been prohibitive for many residents in light of all of the other storm damage-related expenses.

Cheon says the gesture by Giannetti is a big help for those who are still picking up the pieces.

“It gets them a good head start. It saves them time and money,” Cheon said. “(Giannetti was) down here right after the storm started. To do something like that, to help people get back in their homes, is really nice of them.”

Cheryl Doerfel, a Habitat Landing homeowner who evacuated with her family a week before the storm made landfall, says the move by Giannetti will considerably assist her family and others who are scrambling to get cleanup work done.

Doerfel and her family have been working diligently to get things back to normal, and she says that her house sustained little long-term damage. Roofing still needs to be replaced, along with plenty of other tasks, but she says that, so far, their house, which they have owned for about two years, is “looking great.”

Others at Habitat Landing have varying degrees of damage to contend with, along with many in Big Pine Key who returned from evacuating not knowing what to expect.

Preliminary estimates from Monroe County indicate that 445 homes on Big Pine Key were destroyed — the most of any island in unincorporated Monroe — and another 1,038 sustained some kind of damage from the storm.

Cheon says the destruction of Habitat Landing’s private sewage system, already in need of an upgrade, left residents in a situation that only added to an array of immediate problems that the storm created.

“They had a huge sewer problem (that was) a huge health and safety issue,” Cheon said.

For those who live in the 15 houses that make up Habitat Landing, the guidance from FKAA and charitable contribution from Giannetti Contracting is much appreciated, according to Doerfel.

“We’re very lucky,” she said.

cwickenhofer@keysnews.com