Florida Keys News
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
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Grinder pumps proposed for half of island
$6.5M alternative would ease individual costs

ISLAMORADA -- Under preliminary designs, all of the approximately 260 Lower Matecumbe Key properties north of mile marker 75.3 are slated to be serviced by grinder pumps and a low-pressure line rather than a vacuum sewer system.

"A lot of people in here are apprehensive," Lower Matecumbe resident Brad Daugherty said at a public meeting last week.

Daugherty was among more than 100 people who turned out at the Boy Scouts' SeaBase for a session called by the village on Aug. 28 to present designs for the Lower Matecumbe sewer system.

The village and its sewer contractor Layne stressed at the meeting that the designs are being reevaluated. In fact, though the 30 percent-complete designs posted on Layne's website show the northern half of Lower Matecumbe as scheduled for a low-pressure system, company officials last week gave that area a new label of "under design."

But altering the plan won't be cheap, according to an estimate Layne presented to the village on Aug. 26, but never mentioned at the Lower Matecumbe meeting two days later.

In fact, it would cost an extra $6.5 million to outfit portions of Lower and Upper Matecumbe keys with a vacuum system instead of the planned low-pressure line, according to the estimate. Such a move would also push the sewer project schedule beyond the state-mandated December 2015 deadline, Layne, which is known locally as Reynolds Water Islamorada, said in the report. At present, Layne's total contract is $99.5 million.

Layne's designs throughout the village call for the use of low-pressure systems in areas that are difficult, and especially expensive, to serve with a vacuum system. In general, sparsely populated areas and vicinities in which many homes sit a long way back from the highway fit that bill.

In an interview last Friday, Layne's local project manager, Wes Self, said the $6.5 million estimate applied to the properties on the northern portion of Lower Matecumbe that could most feasibly be serviced by a vacuum line. He wasn't sure exactly how many properties fit that category. The estimate also applied to 37 of the 90 properties in Upper Matecumbe that are slated for grinder pumps.

Villagewide, approximately 500 properties are currently scheduled to be serviced by low-pressure lines. And while those low-pressure lines will save money for the village, they are costly to property owners.

The village estimates that those owners will pay their contractors an average of $10,000 to install grinder pumps and connect to the low-pressure system. In contrast, connecting to a vacuum line typically costs $3,500, the town says. The owners of grinder pump properties also have to pay for power to run the systems.

In other parts of the Keys, sewer authorities have subsidized property owners on low-pressure lines to make up for that difference. So far, however, the village has no plans to do the same. But that could begin to change as soon as Wednesday, Sept. 4, when the council convenes for a workshop to discuss the grinder pump question.

"There has to be a fair and equitable solution for every property," Mayor Ken Philipson said in an interview immediately after the Lower Matecumbe meeting last Wednesday.

It was complaints early last month from some of the Upper Matecumbe property owners slated to be serviced by a low-pressure system that raised the issue of the grinder pumps' cost to the forefront of the village debate.

Layne will hold a preconstruction meeting with Upper Matecumbe residents at the Founders Park Community Center on Tuesday, Sept. 10. Work on the system is scheduled to begin in October.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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