Fact Checking Mike Cinque

I’ve been following the Marathon story on KeysNet and I saw the latest – a letter submitted by Mike Cinque, the former Mayor of Marathon.  Let’s fact-check this thing.

Fact: Marathon has a completed working sewer system that meets all state and federal standards.

True.

Fact: Monroe County still has not finished its sewer system.

Yes.  That is most definitely true.  The folks in the Lower Keys are now calling for the plant start-up to be delayed until the deep well is operational*.  The Cudjoe Regional system won’t be on-line until 2017 at least – seven years after the original deadline and two years after the new deadline.

Fact: Marathon provided a more affordable system for the residential properties ($5,700) vs. ($15,000-20,000) for an onsite system.

Did they ever!  Not only that, they combined road repairs and storm water improvements with the sewer project.  According to an FDEP report (Keys Wastewater Report_Revised Final Draft_10 10 13), the Marathon project cost about $103 million** and serves about 10,200 EDU’s.  The project cost is about $10,180 per EDU.  Compare that to Cudjoe Regional  – $21,348 per EDU.  Plus $11 million in road improvements – another $1,236 per EDU.

I agree that the Marathon project was cost-effective and well done.  I often wished that Key Largo had the same opportunity to include storm water and roadway improvements.  As an under-served unincorporated area dependent upon the county this was never an option.

Fact: The central sewer system is what has enabled Marathon to redevelop its hotels and restaurants, which are at the core of our economy in the Florida Keys.

Yes.  True.

Fact: In 2008 and 2009, with the banking and real estate industries in complete collapse in this country, the Marathon City Council had the courage and the foresight to move forward with a central sewer system, knowing it would be the foundation of our economic future.

Fact: From 2008 to 2013, Marathon received necessary state and federal money in the form of grants and loans for the sewers, which enabled Marathon to create much-needed jobs in the community during the toughest economic times that have been seen in a lifetime.

Yes.  In many respects, 2008-2010 was a good time for a construction project.  Costs were way down.  Contractors needed work.  Plumbers needed work.  I know the added cost of the project (assessments, monthly sewer bills) were and still are burdensome for businesses and taxpayers.  However, the cost of the system would have been substantially higher later on, which would have required a larger contribution from the ratepayers.  The timing also enabled Key Largo and Marathon to receive a substantial amount of stimulus money – about $13 million each.  Overall the Key Largo and Marathon projects came at a good time for the local economy.

Fact: Is the central sewer perfect? No, just like everything else in life is not perfect. But it is functional and affordable. And like anything mechanical, it needs to be constantly maintained and improved.

This is so very true.  As soon as a sewer system is placed into service, things will start to break.  The components are under constant stress, especially in the Keys.  Salinity and other corrosive substances are a constant battle.  A sewer system is downstream.  You have to deal with whatever comes your way.  Ongoing monitoring and maintenance have to be a high priority.

Fact: Many tough decisions had to be made with regard to the central sewer system as it was mandated by the state. I might add that I and others have always said this was mandated unfairly. Having said that, all decisions were made in public meetings with public input. I believe all decisions made by all of the council people were made in good conscience and with the people’s best interests in mind.

I agree, in a sense, that the central sewer system was mandated unfairly.  It was certainly needed, and we are seeing significant water quality improvements as a result of it.  However, financing of those projects has been problematic.  The county has been unwilling and unable to distribute the sales tax fairly throughout the unincorporated area, its area of responsibility.  Securing state and federal money is a team effort.  All the players need to trust each other.  The county’s behavior sends a strong negative message to the municipalities and undermines the unity needed to secure state and federal funding.

The state, unfortunately, has inadvertently penalized responsible behavior because of the way it has deployed funding to date.  Those entities that took the mandate seriously and built financially sound projects on time were not allowed to use that money to pay for the required projects that had already been completed.  As a result, their ratepayers suffer a higher financial burden.  In this way, the state money has worked as a disincentive when it comes to timely compliance and fiscal restraint.  This could not possibly have been the intent.  The good news is there’s still $100 million left of the Mayfield Grant.  Perhaps the state will reconsider its position and allow the remaining funds to be used for its intended purpose – financing and refinancing Keys sewer projects.

Fact: The City Council that we have had for the last 18 months has done nothing but look in the rear-view mirror, trying to lay blame and point fingers at everyone else except themselves for their ineffectiveness. Hopefully, not every new council will undo everything that was done by previous councils in the past or we will never get ahead in the future.

You can’t go back.  You can only go forward.  I’ve been involved with the Keys sewer project since 2005.  Marathon had one of the best programs out there.  They chose appropriate technologies.  They standardized their multiple plants to the extent possible.  They made smart decisions.  The bid price of the project was around $180 million before the city took over.  It was a budget-buster.  According to the FDEP report cited above, the actual cost came in around $103 million.  Whatever problems Marathon has now they are 100% capable of solving.  With a clear-eyed, fact-based approach, they will get there.

* If they do delay, they’ll have problems at start-up.  If you let equipment sit for an extended period of time you’re asking for trouble.  I understand the worry about the effect of a large amount of treated effluent being released in a concentrated area.  But I don’t see how that could be more harmful than the same amount of under-treated septic tank effluent currently being released into the environment.  The feared impact on the environment is speculative.

**It is unclear if the $103 million includes paving and storm water.  Either way, it is a cost-effective project.

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