interesting breaking news yesterday in lower Florida Keys sewer grinder pump war: apparently shallow-buried grinder pump high pressure sewage lines spring undetectable leaks which bleed raw sewage into the shallow salt water table, which raw sewage then migrates into the ocean; but deep-buried low pressure gravity sewage line leaks cannot get out of the line into the water table because the water table pressure is higher than the gravity line pressure, and gravity line leaks can be detected and repaired; the point of sewering the Keys was to eliminate septic systems and cess pits, but it appears grinder pump sewage systems, which may work okay on the mainland, are not what the Keys need


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There is a different post today at, which should should be abler to reach by clicking on that link today, and by clicking on this link at anytime:

more entertaining, or maddening, depending on your point of view, viral Bill O’Reilly documentary video slam of Key West fallout; Key West Police Department denies tasering to death lying face down tourist, which well-attended (by Key West police officers) event the Key West Citizen did not report, as far as I know, until after it got a big splash (12/13/2013) in the ever pesky (thank God) online Key West the Newspaper (

Meanwhile, from me this morning to Bill Becker,


US 1 Radio’s ( News Coordinator:

Subject: interesting development in grinder pump war yesterday
Date: Sat, 14 Dec 2013 05:39:03 -0500
] Good morning Bill

Good morning, Bill

For some reason, US 1 Radio’s email address did not survive the transmission in my email to David Rice re his and Brian LaPointe’s apparent lack of knowledge about grinder pump high pressure lines springing undetectable leaks, which bleed into the water table and migrate from there into the sea, the very last thing we want a new sewer system to do in the Keys. You will find my email to David down the way in this email chain started by Banks Prevatt yesterday. Except for my email to David, I stopped showing email addresses in the chain to save space in what I publish today. I disguised citizens’ email addresses to save them receiving SPAM. I corrected a few misspelled words my spellchecker highlighted in the various emails. 
To all five commissioners:
One of your constituents asked that I make this available to you.
banks prevatt
To: Bgprevatt@__________, suellynn@_________
Sent: 12/10/2013 7:02:46 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj: Grinder pits in detail photos
Up close with an E-1 grinder pit.
These are a much cheaper model than E-One used to use. The previous ones, claimed to last 25 years, were fiberglass about the thickness of an small boat’s hull. These are molded polyethylene, like a cheap kayak or paddle boat. They should last longer than a garbage can? The area above grade will deteriorate from sun and weather, and the area below will be subject to crushing forces of the surrounding soil and rapid expansion with plastic softening if hot water is dumped down the drain.
 The electrical connector appears to be a Sch 80 PVC pipe bushing with some caulking to hopefully seal the gap of the flat surface against a curved tank wall. Redneck engineering? Plumbing fittings have a tapered thread while electrical fittings have a straight thread, so that is another leakage source. There is a PVC pipe plug filling the bushing hole in the photo.
The pipe connection for the house sewer pipe appears to be a field install. In other words, the installing contractor will drill a hole in the tank with a hole saw and probably push a 4″ PVC pipe through a rubber grommet. That sounds like a leak to me, too. Notice the “careful craftsmanship” of the concrete ballast blocks that have been field installed. You probably cannot see the lumber sticking out of the concrete at the bottom, but you might notice that one of them is not even in the middle of the ballast concrete. Good luck with the pipe penetration.
The plastic cover and part of the tank will sit above ground, subject to impact and weather damage. It appears that venting is through the hole in the top, and it appears legally undersized and certainly not flood-proof as stated in presentations.
The delivery does not look much like the promises.and assurances, does it? Does this look like an improvement on a concrete septic tank? There were 170 delivered, based on shipping tags. That is 170 unfortunate families. Real people. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you, too.
County Commissioner David Rice wrote:
David Rice
From: Rice-David@MonroeCounty-FL.Gov
To: Bgprevatt@___________
CC: Kolhage-Danny@MonroeCounty-FL.Gov;; BOCCDIS3@MonroeCounty-FL.Gov; BOCCDIS4@MonroeCounty-FL.Gov; BOCCDIS5@MonroeCounty-FL.Gov; and numerous citizen recipients whose email addresses I deleted to save them receiving SPAM and worse
Subject: Re: Grinder pits in detail photos
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2013 12:57:46 +0000
I requested and was given a demonstration of the functioning of the system planned for use. This is not the system I was shown. I was very impressed by both the equipment and it’s operation. I would gladly trade it for my Marathon vacuum system (which cost me $9,500.00). We experience excessive I&I (saltwater intrusion) which significantly increases the cost of treatment. I don’t believe that there is a perfect system, even gravity.
I recently got a call from Dr. Brian LaPoint, a big pine homeowner and a world recognized scientist who’s work is focused on water quality issues in many different countries as well as the Keys. He has found the low pressure (grinder) system superior from an environmental standpoint. He pointed out that gravity must go deep into the ground, below water level.
When there is a leak, and he has found that all systems have leakage problems, the tidal action both causes saltwater intrusion into the system and causes sewage to leak directly into the water surrounding the line. Additionally, he points out there is no mechanism which indicates the presence of a leak, except that the plant operator may notice that the volume which is entering the plant increases, caused by the salt water entering the system. This apparently gives the operator no help in finding the leak for repair.
He states that in his consulting around the world, he highly recommends low pressure, which is installed above the water level, is very reliable, and gives an immediate notification of any leakage.
** A complex problem with many perspectives.
Hope all of you have a great Holiday season.
I replied to David, copied to all:
Interesting. I saw in another email a while back that grinder pump systems and the shallower sewage lines they require also spring leaks which are impossible to locate. Perhaps the true ecological solution is each property owner has an on site treatment plant perhaps like the one Deer Ed, who publishes’s Coconut Telegraph, told me at the Sandbar meeting earlier this week he will use on his property, which is too far from a paved road to be tied into a central sewage system? That’s what I intended to do if I ever had enough money to build my “dream” green off-the-grid Keys home on my Little Torch Key land which I finally ended up selling a few months ago. I figured the county would give me a hard time, and I figured I would give the county a hard time. Although not about that land, perhaps there is still hope :-)
Anon Emus wrote to David, copied to all:
You may be right, that there is no perfect system. I have a friend on BPK whose family has had a composting toilet in his home for 30 years; another live-aboard friend has one in her sailboat. They both agree that that is the way to go. If only these grinder pumps didn’t break down every few years, if only they would work during our several-times-a-year power outages, if only these grinder pumps would not cease to work after one leaves for vacation or go out of town for more than a couple of weeks…then they perhaps would  equal vacuums or gravity in desirability. But unfortunately for Monroe County taxpayers, grinder pump technology is not the right system for most of us.
I personally know and respect Brian. He is world renowned for his knowledge of algae. I have seen a video of his presentation to scientists and officials in one  Asian country, where he shows slides of South Florida and identifies algae growth in the Keys as nearly all caused by run-off from South Florida, and in large part from agricultural activities (such as Big Sugar). It is interesting that the Keys are under mandate to replace on-site treatment systems that are proven to not pollute the closed swimming canals a few feet away while we pay a subsidy on sugar to help buy the fertilizer they use that is creating most of the problem here. We pay 4 to 6 times the world market price of sugar because of the subsidies, which were reauthorized by Congress in May of this year. Sugar subsidies cost Americans about $3.5 billion per year. That would buy a lot of sewer instead.
I have to differ with Brian if he said that pressure sewers are an improvement on gravity, and here’s why. Gravity sewers in the Keys have their high point at just about the water table and go down from there. The hydrostatic pressure of the salt water outside the pipe is always higher than that inside the pipe, which is draining at all times. Therefore, in the Keys, water enters the pipe through a leak, it does not exit. The leak is easily found by observing the run times on the lift stations that the gravity system feeds. From there, one simply pops manhole lids upstream of the lift station at night and the leak is usually obvious- located to a 400′ section which can be camered to pinpoint the problem.
In contrast, a pressure sewer injects  raw sewage into the ground at just about the water table elevation. Unless it is powerful enough to at least soak the surface of the ground, it is nearly impossible to find. The operators never know there is a leak because there is no excessive run time on the lift station, there is no salt water intrusion, and they expect the sewage influent [affluent?] to be less than the metered water sold because much of the water sold is not going down the drain. FKAA knows they have water leaks all over the Keys because the water leaving the plant does not all get to customers. They primarily focus on transmission mains because they are at a higher operating pressure and can lose a phenomenal water through an unseen leak. Because all of FKAA’s piping is bedded in gravel, it is like a huge French drain that usually prevents the leak from being seen on the surface. The leak will travel through the gravel bedding until it finds a nice passage to the ocean. Now ask the FKAA about all those HDPE service lines installed near the housing behind the Marathon Kmart, and how when they went to repair a service leak there, they found they had all turned brittle and you could snap them with your bare hands. Over time, HDPE off-gasses the chemical that keeps it flexible. We are now considering running HDPE LPS collector force mains throughout the CR region and pressurizing them with raw sewage to a pressure expected at times to be almost double the potable water pressure. Furthermore, I understand that the contract calls for a test pressure that is less than the expected peak flow operating pressure and about half of what the pump can produce. This is a recipe for an environmental disaster that will make national news- even if I have to report it myself.
One of our group has worked very closely with Brian LaPointe (just the two of them on the same boat) for about 20 years taking water samples, and in recent conversations he has NOT been supportive of LPS sewers, so there may be some misunderstanding. As a matter of fact, I understood that he recently referred to an area near the Indian River where septic tanks were replaced with LPS and the pollution INCREASED to the point that manatees are dying from some bacteria found in sewage. This information is second hand and subject to correction. I will ask that he give you an update- I believe that his opinion has changed away from LPS since you last spoke.
I cannot understand how it could have cost $9,500 for you to connect to a vacuum pit. If your house is way off the road, you could have put in a small sewage ejector pump to push through a shallow, small diameter pipe for less than half that price, installed. Alternatively, you could have bought a vacuum pit of your very own for about $3500 and buried it near the house. Is there a chance you got ripped off?
The typical sources for high I&I in a vacuum system are loose or missing clean-out caps (which is typical for all systems) and leaky vacuum pits. The vacuum pits are very similar to the grinder pump pits and leak from the same places for the same reasons, except that a grinder pit has an electrical cord penetration and a ground level vent for additional sources of inflow. A common leak source is the home’s sewer pipe penetration of the tank. That penetration is typically a hole in the tank with a rubber grommet that is deteriorated by many constituents of waste water such as bleach or fabric softener. They often leak upon installation anyway, but it may not be noticed unless the connection is below the ground water table. If the glued PVC pipe vacuum main leaks, then water will  be sucked into the line. If environmental protection is the goal, then is that not preferable to injecting raw sewage out of the main? Gravity is by far the best but vacuum is a big improvement over grinders which are well known as the most troublesome of the alternate systems. Troublesome or not, they are unsuitable as a large collection system in the Keys. Just below is a link to an article about Rockridge County’s experience with an LPS grinder pump system that was condemned by public health authorities after 2004 hurricanes caused massive collateral damage BECAUSE of the grinder pump collection system. It was replaced with a vacuum system so of course Airvac tauts it among its success stories, but you will find no similar stories on the Environment One site.
The switch to these polyethylene plastic pits from fiberglass is, in my estimation, a huge reduction of quality and durability. Airvac made the same move. It just increases their profit to roto-mold a plastic pit instead of laying up fiberglass. If there is any way possible, we should be installing conventional gravity. Where gravity is clearly not a realistic solution, any alternate system would be an improvement over grinders.
Banks Prevatt wrote to David, copied to all:
I certainly appreciate you taking time to respond.  I know this subject is getting old and tired on your desk, but I am not sure it is going to go away easily.  I appreciate your reference to an expert like Dr. LaPoint and his concern that gravity flow has to go deep into the ground below water level.  I would be curious as to his opinion about a properly functioning septic tank and drain field.
I am not a scientist with a string of credentials , but in a different life, was a real estate developer, I installed utilities on my own projects.  Included were gravity flow, lift stations and force mains.  I have not done vacuum or grinder type installations, but one truth crosses all systems.  There will be leaks.
On gravity and vacuum systems you will have intrusion and infiltration (I&I).  Hydrostatic pressure in the ground will be greater than in the serer transmission lines.  Ground source water will leak into the system regardless of depth.  Plant operators will know when this occurs and the leaks can be identified by camera and patched at the same time.  I have done this.
Grinder pumps will create positive pressure, and raw sewage will leak into surrounding soil with no way to detect.  You will not even know you have a leak let alone be able to detect and repair it.  Our septic tanks give us better protection than this.
David wrote to Anon:
I understand that your opinion on this subject differs from that of Brian, however I doubt if you are correct in assuming that he has changed his position since we last spoke.  I last spoke to Brian on this subject yesterday.
Over the last ten years, I have learned a great deal. primarily what I have learned is that many people have strong feelings on the subject, however few of them agree with the others.  I do not know your qualifications in this field, however it seems that you speak from a point of knowledge , as does Brian.  Who is right? Anyone? No one ? Everyone?
I do not sense that their is anything approaching general agreement.
Happy Holidays,
Anon wrote to David, copied to All:
Brian probably know more about algae than anybody else in the world and he certainly knows more about it than me. However, I think a grinder pump salesman gave him bad information in a convincing manner and he is running with it.  That’s my guess at this point and I will need to talk to him to see how he came to the conclusions he did. 
I know that if I was a shrewd grinder pump salesman, Brian would be the one i would want to convince that LPS was the answer to sewage-based pollution. He would then sell it for me all over the world!
Stop. Think about it:
 If you want to ensure that sewage does not escape from the pipe between the collection point and the destination, you would want a vacuum in the pipes. The next best thing would be air and a drainage slope (gravity). The worst would be a pressure pipe!
Gravity versus LPS for exfiltration: If you have ever had a garden hose with a hole in it, did it leak faster just laying in the yard or after you turned on the faucet?
In the Keys, tidal action affects the LPS pipe and the very highest end of a gravity pipe about equally (same depth). At deeper depths, no sewage can escape from the gravity pipe because the hole is full of salt water squirting in! To air test a gravity pipe for exfiltration, you add extra air pressure to compensate for the depth of the pipe below the water table. The deeper the pipe, the less chance of efiltration- ever. The salt water just squirts in faster.
Brian is obviously not stupid, but I think he may have been sold a crock of it at a time when he was not thinking clearly. It has happened to us all. Although he is the recognized expert of algal nutrients,  I would wager that I have more experience with the wonderful world of waste water pipes than he. (I should have stayed in school longer) After I talk to him, rested and alert, I bet he calls back with a revised opinion. If he is in Eleuthera I guess it will not be until he returns.
I wrote to David, copied to all, and added FKAA officials, and journalists Tim O’Hara (Key West Citizen), Naja Girard (Key West the Blue Paper) and Sean Kinney (the Keynoter). For some reason, Bill Becker at US1 Radio’s email address did not survive the transmission. I sent it to him separately. 
I wrote to all, added FKAA officials and journalists:
To: halloween (Anon) @___________;
CC: bgprevatt@____________;;;;;; ( (;;;, and numerous citizen recipients not shown here to save them receiving SPAM
Subject: RE: Grinder pits in detail photos (and Brian Lapointe)
Date: Sat, 14 Dec 2013 04:34:25 -0500
Hi, David –
Brian LaPoint[e] has designed, built, installed, operated, repaired sewage systems? 
As much as I respect Brian’s work in the ocean, from what Anon and Banks wrote to you today [yesterday] about grinder pump high pressure lines springing undetectable leaks, it doesn’t look to me that Brian knows much about grinder pumps. Doesn’t look to me that you do, either, David, after ten years of learning.  Looks to me, based on what you wrote, David, and based on what Anon and Banks wrote, that Brian is misinforming people around the world about grinder pumps and gravity systems. 
The very last thing anyone concerned about the sea environment should want, David, is to put a sewerage system in the Florida Keys, which springs undetectable leaks which only can bleed into the shallow water table and from there migrate into the sea. This is most disturbing to me, David, not only because you and Brian seem to have completely missed the point of sewering the lower Keys, but also because I fear the other county commissioners, county staff, and FKAA have completely missed the point, too.
Before I wrote to David, this had happened.
Anon wrote to Banks and me:
No, I never sold a vacuum pit, but I figured that Airvac was probably wondering why they were not considered. When I saw the doctored decision tree, I decided to contact Airvac and let them know the dirty sales tactic being used by E-1. I also invited them to evaluate the area for vacuum where we could then rub the (probably) lower price in FKAA’s face and offer the BOCC yet another way to install the system for no more money while still getting grinder pumps out of people’s yards and letting them flush when the power goes out. Ideally, i would like to see the BOCC cough up the money for all gravity, and where that is nuts, then put the grinder in the roadway. The money is there. If we can’t get the BOCC to give up some of our money (until 2033) to make it a first quality system. then why would they not then go with a vacuum system that costs less and at least makes some sense? I have been told from a pretty reliable source that FKAA has 5 grinders on their own properties, installed in the last 2-4 years and they have had problems with every one of them. I also found out that the FKAA is still trucking the sewage from Long Key State Park because the force main to the Layton plant at the transfer station is still plugged solid. My guess is that they will probably need to dig it up every few hundred feet and auger it out or jet it.  DEP would love to watch that operation.  To the best of my knowledge, the Layton project was FKAA’s first installation of a force main. The previous projects were vacuum sewers and the vacuum-pump stations were at the treatment plants. The pumps just pump up over the wall to the plant. Layton went on line in 2006. FKAA had better soon learn how to clear a plugged force main. Long Key park has reportedly had no regular sewer service for at least 3 weeks. Can you imagine the force mains under the Cudjoe Regional channels plugging up like Layton’s?! The Keys will eventually make the national news with this sewer design. “Area of Critical Concern” will be apt. We need to stop the insanity. You know, a retired and disgruntled FKAA employee once called FKAA management the “Mutual Admiration Society.”  He said they just sit around all morning in meetings telling each other what a great job they are doing. Then they all go to luinch. (I think somebody must be out to lunch alright)
Anon wrote to me, copied to ALL:
Hi Sloan.
Since you specifically asked, I am slated for gravity and get no compensation or other perks from Airvac. I think all vacuum systems in the US are owned by the same company now, since Roetiger (or something like that) bought out Airvac some years ago. Those two systems are not compatible by the way, and both are used in the Keys. I strongly recommend gravity.
What worries me the most about vacuum is that it is not a generic system and if this mega-company goes bust we are going to have to wait for a Chinese company to clone parts! Even with E-one, to use another company’s grinder would require grinder pit modifications. Also, the whole system is designed around the nearly vertical pump curve of a progressive cavity pump, so the more reliable centrifugal grinders may or may not work as a substitute. Another big problem with vacuum is that if a pipe is broken when digging, it sucks gravel in. But at least you don’t have highly septic raw sewage shooting 40-50′ in the air like an LPS force main!
I am quite familiar hands-on and design with most wastewater systems and am donating my effort to the cause because many of my closest friends are getting stuck with grinders and some of them do not have the electrical capacity to handle them. Having thoroughly researched and studied the system, I am convinced it is certain to be a disaster for all of us- in rates if nothing else. Like Rice said, there is no perfect system- but gravity is the closest we have available with less than a NASA budget. The technology is thousands of years old and requires no proprietary parts. I have been suggesting vacuum because it is a much more suitable system, FKAA already operates them in Baypoint, they are usually cheaper than individual grinders except in isolated areas, there is no intrusion onto people’s property, they flush when the power goes out, and I want to hear why grinders were selected instead. It better be good.
The other question that was never really answered is why there are not multiple connections per pump. The two possibilities that come immediately to mind is that maintenance and repair is planned to be dumped back on the individual homeowners or that somebody in authority is profiting from each grinder sale. There may be another explanation but I have not heard anything believable from FKAA. Tom walker said they are not allowed to do so by regulations but we know that is false. It is even suggested in the DEP referenced Guide to Low Pressure Sewers, specifically incorporated by reference in the F.A.C..  Look it up- its on line
I wrote to Anon, copied to All:
Thanks, Anon, for putting that to rest and for your continued broad and what looks to me to be knowledgeable technical input. Too bad the County Commission didn’t hire you as a consultant, but then I am not yet convinced they were motivated by what was best for the lower Keys. It’s still looking to me they were motivated, still are motivated, by saving money regardless. Banks told us at Sandbar the other night that he and others had spoken with Kirk Zeulch that very morning, and Zeulch had told them FKAA wanted gravity wherever possible because it does not break, but when FKAA presented that to the County, FKAA was told their proposal was too expensive and to come back with a cheaper sewer system, and that’s how grinder pumps became dominant. I was not there, but if Banks said that is what Zeulch said, I believe Banks. Sloan
John William wrote to David, copied to ALL:
We just need the BOCC to agree to spend the money and tell FKAA to maximize gravity.
FKAA keeps harping at every meeting that the BOCC would only provide enough to put in grinders.
BOCC members keep saying that the FKAA did not ask for more.
Maybe that is why both sides are never in the same room at the same time to answer questions? 
This was in my yesterday’s post at I did not yet know that low pressure gravity system leaks can be detected and repaired, but grinder pump high pressure systems cannot be detected and repaired.

County Commissioner George Neugent’s last email to me:

George Neugent


No I don’t have a grinder system, Sloan, it wasn’t my choice. However, if you or the city or FKAA want to pay to put one in I would be happy to have one because I understand the efficacy and efficiency of the product.

Everything said, even when someone requests confidence and you agree, it still winds up on the front page. I’m sure your patients/clients never read your disclaimer on confidence.

I replied:

George, this is far too important a subject to be viewed as confidential communication. All of Cudjoe regional is in your voting district. You are writing to me and others over your Board of County Commissioners email address, which is public domain once you send it out.

Let’s put all of that aside.

I understand your frustration over how much effort and time this has taken, and now this newest sewer war is waging. I have told Banks and his camp they waited far too long to object. I have told them a judge most likely will say they waited far too long. I have irked some of them by publishing stuff they wanted to keep among themselves, and by publishing some of their email addresses. I am no friend of someone who makes serious allegations of wrongdoing against someone, but does not want to be identified with the allegations.

My concerns are:

1. the durability and reliability of grinder pumps on residential property, especially where the homeowner is absent for long periods of time, and when there are long power outages such as have happened in the Keys following hurricanes.

2. groups of lower Keys residents have gotten changes over to gravity made in their geographic areas by being loud and persistent, and by even filing suit.

3. If they gained concessions – more gravity, less grinder pump, there must have been good engineering and equipment reasons for the concessions; otherwise, why make the concessions and they end up with an inferior sewage system to the one they first were offered?

4. If those groups were made concessions, all similar lower Keys areas should receive similar concessions. Otherwise, it’s discrimination.

One group which got concessions because they made noise is the one Todd German was in. I talked with Todd about that again today. He did not agree with me that every area should get similar concessions. However, he conceded, as he said did Kirk Zeulch back when he was FKAA’s lawyer, gravity in one area and grinder pumps in a similar or adjacent area frequently could not be sensibly explained.

5. I am not an engineer, George. I am not mechanically inclined. I know there are areas where grinder pumps make sense and gravity does not. But where gravity makes sense over grinder pumps, I feel gravity should be used even though it costs more.

Isn’t that what the 1% sales tax was passed to do? Sewer the Keys and fix bridges people drove over? What I hear over and over, George, including from Todd, is the County Commission had other things it wanted to spend that 1% sales tax money on than what it was passed by the voters to pay for. This is widespread perception, George, based on what I”m hearing.



About Sloan

That's what this website is about, also and If you can't get a publisher to take on your wacky musing, you do it yourself.
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