report on Big Pine Key senior citizens meeting on grinder pump vs. gravity sewer systems

Madeline

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If there is not a new daily post at this website, there probably is one at www.goodmorningkeywest.com, which you should be able to reach daily by clicking on that link. I’m living in Key West presently, running for mayor again, strolling more accurately, and that’s where much of the action for me is currently. There will be a new post there today. Up before noon, as things now are looking.

Personal disclosures for new readers: this senior citizen (71) has no editor to proof read what he writes and publishes; and he is somewhat dyslexic, and sometimes inverts words, letters, and make other flubs, which seem perfectly okay in the moment, and even when he proof reads, but only later do they jump out at him.

Meanwhile, moving on to the purpose of today’s rummaging at this website,

key-deer.jpgkey deer

I drove up to Big Pine Key yesterday afternoon to attend a ARRP meeting at the Senior Citizen Center. I had understood Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) would make a presentation on the Cudjoe Regional Sewer District (Cudjoe Regional).

On arriving, I heard seniors express anger that Dump the Pumps people had been there earlier handing out information against grinder pumps. I told the angry seniors they should give great weight to what the Dump the Pumps people were saying. I got a really angry response. I repeated my advice. Check out: www.dumpthepumps.com

dump the pumps

My impression from my discussions with several other seniors before and after the presentation, and from questions asked during the presentation by Kevin Wilson, who was introduced by the local ARRP Chapter President as the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) engineer in charge of Cudjoe Regional, was that most of the seniors knew little, if anything, about Cudjoe Regional. I also told those seniors to go to www.dumpthepumps.com and start reading. And, to read what I reported today at www.goodmorningfloridakeys.com, which would be up there by noon today at the latest.

For any of those seniors new to this stinky playing field, and new to my way of reporting, perhaps you also might wish to read my previous two posts at this website. Down at the bottom of this page is an “old posts” icon. If you click on it, that will take you to the next previous post. If you click on the “older posts” icon at the bottom of that post, that will take you to the next previous post. You will see I’m not into politically correct and beating around the bush.

pelican pooping

Meanwhile, to begin his presentation last night, Kevin Wilson said, actually, he did not work for FKAA, but he worked for Monroe County and was the county’s engineer in charge of the county’s end of bringing Cujoe Regional online. Kevin said he was a chemical engineer, had no degree in waste water engineering. No one from FKAA was there, which the Chapter President explained later in the meeting was due to his only having invited Kevin, whom he had introduced as FKAA’s engineer in charge of Cudjoe Regional.

I figured FKAA having no one there to answer questions would prove problematic as the meeting progressed, since FKAA, not Monroe County, is building and will operate Cudjoe Regional for Monroe County. I figured right, but before I go there, I feel compelled to report perhaps the most important thing I heard yesterday evening.

The Chapter President told me after Kevin’s presentation, that he has a home in Minnesota, where he lives about half the year. He has a grinder pump. When it was buried, water filled the hole and the pump was installed in water. That was eleven years ago. He now is on his third grinder pump. I said, dang, I wished he had said that during the meeting; that was really important.

Most grinder pumps in Cudjoe Regional will be buried in water. Salt water.

I urged the Chapter President to call a meeting next month, at which FKAA was present. He said he could not to it, the next meeting agenda already was booked. I said, the please call an emergency meeting. He said he could not do that, either. He was soon headed for Minnesota. I said, then please have someone else in the ARRP Chapter call an emergency meeting. He said that would not be possible.

I’m going to jump around telling what else leaped out at me while Kevin Wilson was taking questions.

Kevin said FKAA will look out for and take care of grinder pumps forever. No, he did not know if that was in writing. However, there was a state statute, he thought, which required FKAA to do that. And, he thought, if FKAA assigned the maintenance and repairs of grinder pumps to another entity, he thought the state statute would require FKAA to still be responsible, even though FKAA no longer was doing the maintenance and repairs. Yes, maybe that all was something he needed to look into and find out for sure.

If there is a Hurricane Wilma event, water covers an island, power goes out for two weeks, grinder pumps stop working, human waste starts backing up out of the grinder pump, gets into people’s yards, then into their homes, like what happened in a New Jersey grinder pump subdivsion after Hurricane Sandy, what does FKAA do? FKAA sends out repairmen with portable generators to get the problem taken care of. (Even though there is no electricity when the repairmen leave.) How many grinder pumps will FKAA have to service, if the power goes out for two weeks in a Hurricane Wilma event? About 1,200. FKAA has enough service men to do that? They say they will gear up for it. (Right about then, I was really wishing Kevin worked for FKAA.)

Kevin said the way to solve power outage (but not all the human waste in the yard in the homes, which was solved by Hazmat teams in the new Jersey situaiton), is for each homeowner to have a generator to provide electricity during such emergencies. A generator they have to pay for and have wired into their home. And, if they are snowbirds and away for six months when the Hurricane Wilma event comes? Well, they won’t need electricity, because they won’t be there. But what about 3 feet of seawater over their grinder pump buried in their yard?

Not addressed, my bad, but with FKAA not there, how could the question be answered, even if asked: How many grinder pumps will FKAA keep in stock to replace broken grinder pumps in need of repair?

On snowbirds leaving for months and what happens to grinder pumps when they are not used regularly, Kevin said the grinder pump manufacture’s manual says grinder pumps have to be flushed out with clean water before going into hibernation, otherwise there might be problems trying to use them after hibernation ends. Problems like, they don’t work. A repairman has to be called to fix the grinder pump, or replace it. And, maybe the grinder pump won’t work even if it had been flushed out with fresh water, before it went into hibernation.

An elderly woman, who later told me she was 92, asked Kevin about the FKAA easement for a grinder pump. What did that mean to her as a property owner? Kevin said it was like a utility easement, it gave FKAA the right to put the grinder pump on her land and then to come onto her land to maintain and repair the grinder pump. But he was not a lawyer. I said I’m a lawyer, I can tell her what the easement means. It means FKAA basically owns that part of her land. She can plant grass on it, but anything else she wants to do there she needs FKAA’s permission. She cannot do anything there that will interfere with or damage the grinder pump and its line out to the street sewer line. She has to let FKAA come onto her land and do maintenance work and repairs on the grinder pump. It is like a utility easement, say like her electricity easement. It does not affect her title, she will be able to sell her home.

My bad, I did not say the best way to oppose getting a grinder pump is to not sign FKAA’s easement agreement. Later, after the meeting, I told some seniors that, and to be sure they had gotten together and hired a lawyer to defend them from FKAA, Monroe County Code Enforcement and Health Department employees, who tried to give them a hard time. Be ready to call 911 and ask for a deputy to be sent to help them repel trespassers and take them to jail for not leaving when asked to leave, and for threatening them. That advice did not seem happily received.

There were questions about the cost to homeowners. Kevin said a homeowner’s cost for gravity could run $2,000 to $7,000, depending on how much sewer line the homeowner had to run out to the FKAA main on the street. While grinder pump and line would cost a homeowner $1,500-$2,500, depending on distance to street main, which FKAA would install on the homeowner’s land and connect to the street main. That’s when the Chapter President being on his third grinder pump in 11 years in Minnesota would have been nice to hear.

Someone asked, why grinder pumps at all? Well, Kevin said, some areas were too remote, or too sparsely populated, to justify the cost of a gravity system. Otherwise, what had been designed for Cudjoe Regional was the most cost-effective system. Nothing said by Kevin about FKAA’s first Cudjoe Regional design was nearly all gravity, grinder pumps only where gravity was not feasible. Nothing said by Kevin about the Monroe County Commission rejecting that design because of its cost, and asking FKAA to come back with a cheaper design. That came out after the meeting, when someone asked the questions, and I said the only reason for this design was because it was cheaper up front than gravity. Kevin was there and said nothing. Long term, I told othe seniors elsewhere in the room, grinder pumps will end up costing more than gravity.

I did not say, nor did Kevin say, but one senior went into it: the county’s one-percent infrastructure sales tax was passed, first, to sewer the Keys correctly. Any tax revenues produced after the Keys were sewered correctly could be used for roads, bridges, etc.

In fact, the County Commission developed a wish list for other projects. It wanted to trim the sewering cost so it could spend the infrastructure tax on that wish list, two big items of which were repairing Old Seven Mile Bridge ($18,000,000, I think was the county’s cost for that) and buying Rowell’s Marina on Key Largo ($5,000,000 was, I think, the cost of that). That’s why the County Commission rejected FKAA’s mostly gravity Cudjoe Regional, and told FKAA to design a cheaper system, which is why there was a meeting last night at the Big Pine Senior Center.

Before the meeting started, I told Kevin that he did not believe what he was telling people about Cudjoe Regional system being the best system for the money. He did not believe grinder pumps were right where gravity could be used. I said the reason I knew he did not believe it was because, if he believed it, he would have insisted that grinder pumps be used exclusively. The only gravity would be the main lines transferring the affluent toward the treatment plant on Cudjoe Key. Kevin said grinder pumps are not right everywhere, but he did not elaborate.

In fact, Bob Dean, the Chairman of FKAA’s Governor-appointed Board of Directors, said at a public meeting at FKAA’s offices in Key West, which I attended, that FKAA preferred gravity and would install it in Cudjoe Regional, if the County Commission would pay for it. Chairman Dean said that just after Kevin had make much the same presentation to the FKAA Board, during which Kevin said the design for Cudjoe was a “robust” system. Actually, it was the default system FKAA had designed after the County Commission had rejected FKAA’s mostly gravity system design.

That resulted in property owners on the Sugarloaf Keys and Cudjoe Key getting up in arms about getting grinders. One of the Sugarloafers filed a lawsuit, and the County Commission caved in and gave them gravity. Proving, yes, the County Commission did not believe grinders were best. Otherwise, the County Commission would have ordered grinder pumps, not gravity, put on the Sugarloaf Keys and Cudjoe Key. The County Commission would have been guilty of malfeasance, if grinders were cheaper than gravity and just as good environmentally. The County Commission would have been guilty of malfeasance, because it had an affirmative duty to not waste county taxpayer money.

Actually, the County Commission IS guilty of malfeasance, because grinders are not cheaper, and they are an environmental threat because of the Hurricane Wilma event problem; and because grinder lines are buried shallow, above the watertable. When grinder lines spring leaks, and they will do that, the leaks leave the grinder lines and raw sewerage goes into the soil, and from there into the limestone, and though it into the water table, and from there into the canals, lagoons, and from there into the ocean, and from there onto the reef. The same problem septic tanks and cess pits now produce. And, grinder pump leaks cannot be detected, so they cannot be fixed. The same problem sewering the Florida Keys was supposed to stop.

Gravity lines are buried deep, beneath the shallow Keys water table. When, and it happens, gravity lines spring leaks, the water pressure outside the gravity pipe is greater than the water pressure inside the pipe, so what happens is salt water comes through the leak hole into the gravity pipe. Raw sewerage does not escape, because the greater outside water pressure keeps the raw sewerage in the gravity pipe. The treatment plant deals with the salt water. There is a way to detect leaks in gravity lines. The leaks can be found and fixed by digging down to them, and this happens.

The only reason for sewering the Keys was to stop human wastes from getting into the environment. Sewering the Keys was mandated by the Florida Legislature after Monroe County and the different Keys cities did not take care of the problem. Key West took care of its part of the problem first in the Keys. Key West has a gravity system. It has a state of the art treatment plant.

FKAA has a few grinder pumps, which it uses on some of its own properties. FKAA has no history with a big grinder pump system. I hear that no grinder system as big as Cudjoe Regional has been attempted anywhere else. The grinder pump provider is a relatively small company. It obtained a warehouse and opened an office in Marathon about two years ago. The grinder pump provider, apparently, not FKAA, designed the second Cudjoe Regional Sewer System.

George Neugent and County Commissioner David Rice both live in Marathon, which went with a vacuum pump sewer system. As did Key Largo, which is using grinders only where vacuum is not feasible. Cudjoe Regional, which lies entirely in George Neugent’s voting district, is being used as a grinder pump experiment. Never have grinder pumps been tried in such a big way in a shallow salt water table. Nothing mechanical works as well in saltwater areas. Everyone living in the Keys knows that.

Gravity systems have no moving parts; gravity moves the sewerage from homes to the street mains, and from the mains to transfer pumping stations, and from there to other pumping stations en route to the treatment plant. Gravity uses pumps, but only for the transfer stations, and those pumps are backed up by generators which come on automatically if the power goes out. FKAA has technicians on duty, ready to rush to pumping stations where there is a problem.

After a few years of being dunked in Florida Keys and Key West politics, I arrived at a conclusion:

fishy smell

If what a local government is doing makes no sense, then its rigged. Something shady is underway. A senior told me last night, after the main meeting had ended, that somebody is getting paid off. I said I agreed, but it probably is impossible to determine who and how.

The only way I know to deal with that is to throw the county commissioners out of office, who are responsible for the Cudjoe Regional Sewer District. While some people would say those county commissioners are George Neugent, David Rice and Sylvia Murphy (Key Largo), I think all five of them are responsible, because none of them, to my knowledge, called for Cudjoe Regional to be grinder pumps throughout. Therefore, they all knew grinder pumps were inferior, and none of them came out and said it.

I told some of the seniors after the main part of last night’s meeting ended, that Big Pine has not yet let the horse out of the barn, because the sewering there has not yet begun. Therefore, if they file an injunction lawsuit, they will not likely have to put up a big indemnity bond, to reimburse FKAA and Monroe County for damages if the lawsuit ultimately is unsuccessful. I told them the lawsuit needs to be filed quickly. Otherwise, they will end up like the keys below them, which already are getting grinders in many areas. I told the Big Pine people to chart their own course, because the people on the islands below have different problems now.

Also, Big Pine has the Federal Key Deer Refuge, and FKAA wants to pump water out of Big Pine’s freshwater lenses, on which the protected key deer and marsh rabbits, and the pine trees depend to survive. That gives Big Pine easier entry into Federal Court, than the lower Keys have.

Also, I recently heard from Dump the Pumps that a lot of Federal money was funneled through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) into the Cudjoe Regional Sewer District, which provides another entry into Federal Court, especially since DEP is in cahoots with Monroe County and FKAA. DEP declined to intervene against grinder pumps.

I lost confidence in DEP years ago. It’s not a friend of Mother Nature, but is a friend of Big Sugar and other farm combines, and real estate developers.

DEP’s Director answers directly to Governor Scott, who has been innundated with emails from lower Keys re grinder pumps opponents. His underlings sometimes reply, his computers sometimes reply: it’s not the Governor’s problem, but is a local problem, although much of the cost of Cudjoe Regional is being provided by the Florida Legislature.

Bottom line for Big Piners, there is no help anywhere but self help. Don’t sign FKAA’s easement agreement, get a good lawyer to defend you on that, and maybe the same good lawyer can file suit for you in Federal Court. It’s all on you, Big Piners, to look out for yourselves, and for Mother Nature and her creatures and ocean and reef.

A senior asked me last night if I could be Big Piners’ lawyer? I said no, I do not practice law any more, my law license is in Alabama, I never had a Florida law license. Also, my law license in Alabama is inactive.

For me, the comic relief in last night’s meeting was the microphone Kevin was given to use kept going out on him. When he finally wondered out loud what that was about?, I laughed and pointed skyward. Kevin said, Divine Intervention? I said, might be. The “joke” probably meant little to the seniors, if they were not familiar with my ongoing claims that angels tell me where to be, what to do. But Kevin got it, as did two Dump the Pumps men in the audience, one of whom had given me a book marker before the meeting started, on which was: “I do whatever the little voices in my head tell me to do.”

Accompanying the book marker was a quite old copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, which the fellow said I will need if I get elected mayor of Key West this year. Everywhere I go, the angels are already there waiting for me.

I did not say last night that, just before dawn yesterday morning, I was shown in a dream that I needed to be at that senior citizen meeting, to try to help people very new to the grinder pumps situation, who knew little, to nothing, about it.

Sloan Bashinsky
keysmyhome@hotmail.com

Sloan at Coco's

photo taken by Rose Dell, 2011, at Coco’s Kitchen, Big Pine Key shopping center.

Coco's

Rose and her mom Coco, my dear friends, own and operate Coco’s Kitchen; it was in a dream last fall that Rose’s boyfriend Andy, also my dear friend, pinched my nose lightly, and laughed, and later I realized it was about something smelly, and then I knew that was the angel comedians’ way of getting me ready to dive headfirst into this cess pool. Why the angels waited until after I had sold my place on Little Torch Key to do that, they have not yet deigned to tell me. Maybe some day they will.

About Sloan

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