That email I wrote to the Key Largo Wastewater Board made the paper. I’m glad. The prior news story about Tobin walking out of the meeting made it sound like the board members are just fighting over nothing. I suppose it looks that way on the surface. But there are deeper concerns over staffing issues and transparency. As these concerns go unaddressed anxiety grows, prompting some commissioners to probe a little deeper. Then others push back against that. It seems they’re in a bit of a spiral. It’s not constructive.
I do stand corrected on one thing. Dan Saus is a “B” operator. Still, the main point stands. The permit requirements are a bare minimum. They are coverage requirements. It takes more than that to run the plant. The District was able to negotiate lower staffing levels because it proved it could meet Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) standards well before it was required. It didn’t happen with bare minimum staffing levels.
When I became the Operations Manager, the District was in permit trouble. The root cause was that we had one very frazzled wastewater treatment plant operator and a couple of inexperienced trainees. I rotated in a couple of experienced operators, who’d been out on the collection system. There was a bit more to it than that, but once that root issue was addressed everything began to fall into place.
Wastewater treatment plant operators don’t just stand around all day with a license in their hand. It takes a lot more than that. They have to have a working knowledge of biology, chemistry, mechanical issues, regulatory issues, etc. They need to diagnose and correct plant issues. They sample and do lab work. They are monitoring certain plant parameters. They need to know what to look for, what it means, and what to do if they see something heading in the wrong direction. Their work is invisible to most people, but it is critically important, especially in the Keys.
Well, I’ve said my piece. I’m certainly not going to argue over it. It’s not my baby anymore.
I could not disagree more about the staffing requirements at this wastewater plant. The law states that the current staffing of a Category II Class B treatment plant should be 16 hours 7 days a week. The plant was given some kind of variance and only must staff 4 hours 5 days with a check each weekend day. After the expansion the plant will be classified as a Category I Class A the law states that the staffing requirements are 24 hours 7 days a week. Again somehow the plant was given some kind of variance and only must staff 6 hours a day 5 days with a check each weekend day. This should be corrected to keep trained staff onsite for emergencies that arise. 3 Million Gallons a Day is about 2100 gallons per minute. Do you really believe there is not going to be anything go wrong or break on a weekend or after 4pm on week days ? There could be 2100 gallons a minute of sewage spilling into the ocean wrecking our reefs !! No automation can take the place of a human to stop a spill !! I live here for the reefs and would of never agreed to such staffing. I would like to know that all the money we have spent on a collection system is not squandered by understaffing the plant, causing raw sewage to enter the ocean. This was a REALLY BAD DECISION !!!
Keep in mind the District has been staffed at a higher level than the bare minimum permit requirements for the past few years. Realistically, it takes more than that to run the plant and meet AWT consistently over the long term. Also, as you point out it’s a good idea to make sure peak flow times are covered. At least in my opinion. Obviously there are people at the District who disagree. They get to make those decisions now and deal with the consequences. I get to write about it on the internet. The District is getting very close to the bare minimum permit requirements now. That is what Comm. Tobin and Comm. Majeska are concerned about. They see licensed operators leaving and not being replaced. That’s why I wrote the original post. The newspaper article made it all sound like a silly slap fight over a lawyer bill. There’s more going on in the background. I would definitely be uncomfortable going as low on staffing as the permit allows. I think they are really cutting it close. As you pointed out, the stakes are high.
They have been staffing 1 shift, knowing the highest flows I’m sure are after 6pm each day is crazy dangerous.
At one time there were overlapping shifts. Not sure of the situation now.