County and FKAA – Off the Rails

train wreckUpdate:  I had a chance to review the complaint.  There is no gravity adjacent to the properties.  Post has been corrected accordingly.

Note:  I was actually coming back to edit this post.  On re-reading it, I thought it was too “ranty”.  It turns out that it had already gotten a lot of hits (by Real Poop standards) so I’ll leave it be.  I was extremely annoyed by the attitude and this was my immediate reaction.  Monroe County government at work.  Ugh.

I saw this item on this morning.  It’s really not funny at all for the property owners involved, but the “partnership’s” reaction made me laugh/cry/vomit.  The “partnership”, of course, is Monroe County and the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA).  The two most bubba-tastic government entities on the face of the planet.  (Other folks might throw Key West in there, too.  I won’t argue.)

The “partnership” characterizes the suit as being “frivolous and without merit”.

I don’t know the particulars of this specific case, but I do know that the “partnership” has not been open and honest in their dealings with the public.  The fact that this lawsuit was filed at all, along with the many that came before it, is a reflection of the “partnership’s” mishandling of the sewer projects in general, and the Cudjoe Regional project in particular.  The public is justifiably angry.  Whether this lawsuit succeeds or fails will not change these indisputable truths.  Even if the “partnership” wins, they’ve already lost.

The county attorney’s comments provide an eye-opening look at the “partnership’s” blistering contempt for it’s own customers – the ratepayers, the taxpayers, the people who pay for their salaries and their trips and and their improper p-card purchases and their stolen iPhones and their poorly executed capital projects and their general ongoing nonsense.  From the article:

“We intend to vigorously contest the lawsuit and reserve the right to ask for sanctions,” Monroe County Attorney Cynthia Hall said in response to the lawsuit that was filed this week on behalf of two Lower Keys property owners.

I don’t know what attempts the “partnership” made to address the property owners’ concerns before things got to this point.  I’m going to guess the “partnership” blew them off at first, provided misleading information when they persisted and are now resorting to intimidation tactics.  That would certainly fit the pattern.  Hall’s comment above is a clear example of step 3.

I found this pile of word-vomit to be positively bizarre.

“This lawsuit is a last-minute attempt by a small group of people to delay the completion of the Cudjoe Regional Sewer System, based on their objection to an efficient and cost-effective design,” Hall said in the prepared statement. “The design, which was finalized in 2009 and reviewed in dozens of public meetings, includes the use of a low pressure force main system of grinder pumps to enable the expansion of the original system to cover virtually all properties in the region.”

Mmmmmkay…so why would these two property owners have such a strong objection to an “efficient and cost-effective design”?  And why didn’t the news article include any comments from the folks on the other side of the lawsuit?  I hope the Blue Paper and the KeyNoter cover this one.  Otherwise, we’ll just get more of this slanted, nonsensical garbage.

Are these property owners just evil super-villains who hate “efficient and cost-effective designs” just because that’s what super-villains do?  If they are super-villains, why are they fiddling around with a sewer project?  Shouldn’t they be figuring out how to blow up the world or something?  If this design is so “efficient and cost-effective” why does it cost so damn much?  And if the design was finalized in 2009, why does this presentation by an FKAA staffer say the design for Big Pine and Little Torch were only 30% complete at that time?  See slide 15.

So many questions!

This article, published yesterday, includes a very interesting quote.  It at first sounded to me like there’s a gravity main running alongside these two properties.  In fact, there is no gravity main adjacent to the properties and the complaint does not assert that.

“Defendants refuse to provide connection to the system in the right of way adjacent to Louise and Gail’s residences to which Louise and Gail may connect via gravity access as required by law,” Miami attorney Jeff Cynamon wrote in the lawsuit. “Instead, the defendants insist that the point of connection be made via grinder pumps on easements in FKAA’s favor, which FKAA demands be placed on Louise’s and Gail’s private property.”

I have no idea what prompted the FKAA’s irrational love affair with grinder pumps.  Grinder pumps are fine.  They’re a tool that works in certain situations.  But going on private property is a major downside.  It’s a lifetime commitment.  And it is not fun for anybody.  Not the utility.  Not the customer.  Not the contractor.

The Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District (District) only has 150 or so utility-maintained grinder pumps in its system.  And they started working with the affected public long before the first one was ever installed.  There were mess-ups.  There were people who just were not comfortable with the idea of the District having a permanent, intrusive installation on their property.  Period.

Even so, the District has been sued by zero affected property owners to date.  I would argue that this is partially a result of the effort that the District put in up front.  There was a substantial effort made to educate people about the alternatives, the related costs, what the District was able to do, and what the District was unable to do.

The “partnership” has roughly ten times as many grinder pumps.  Their public outreach effort, obviously, has failed and that has increased the cost of the project, including the untold thousands spent on legal fees.  Clearly, they’ve given up on winning hearts and minds.  Not that they ever really tried – other than simply throwing money at the situation.  Of course, that backfired like it always does.

If there are people who absolutely refuse to grant an easement, there are a couple of avenues the “partnership” could pursue.  They could simply install the grinder pumps in the right-of-way.  Marathon went with this approach on Grassy Key partially in an effort to avoid going on private property.  The fact that they could serve more than one property with an installation and thus save money is also a benefit of that approach.  It’s not ideal, it’s not problem-free and not everybody likes it, but it is a potential solution to the problem.

Installing the grinder pumps in the right-of-way may not always be feasible.  There could be physical obstacles such as power poles, water mains, etc.  In that case, the “partnership” could obtain the easement through a condemnation process.  Again, not ideal, but it will get the job done.

Once again, I’m left wondering how the situation deteriorated to this point.  The accusatory statements and punitive threats are unbecoming of a public official – particularly when directed at a customer.  And these are not off-the-cuff remarks made in the heat of the moment.  They came from an official statement.

That arrogant attitude is exactly what got the “partnership” into trouble with the public in the first place.  I’m sure it’s frustrating to be served with yet another lawsuit, but the “partnership” has no one to blame but themselves.

Needless to say, I’ll be following this story with interest.

This entry was posted in BOCC, Cudjoe Regional, FKAA, Wastewater. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to County and FKAA – Off the Rails

  1. Den Settles says:

    Our next door neighbor on Pirates Rd, Little Torch was away when a grinder pump was planted in his front yard. The Layne contractor crew broke through his septic tank cover with one wheel of a piece of heavy equipment to the point that a lot of concrete and pea rock fell into the tank. The crew stood around looking at the damage for a while, then covered the hole with plastic tarp and plywood overlaid with pea rock. They left with no attempt to contact the home owner to let him know what had happened. After the property owner got home, saw that a grinder pump (and unsightly post with alarm panel) were installed and a tree had been removed, he reviewed his security camera video which covered the entire job in detail. He ultimately got in contact with the contractor and asked how the job went. They lied, told him it went well; he informed they were “caught” on security camera video and demanded they return and repair the damage. They did so very reluctantly without cleaning out the rubble in the holding tank and he informed them that if anything whatsoever went wrong with the system, they (Layne/FKAA) would be liable. So much for integrity in the CRWS plan.
    Mr. Zuelch told us in more than one meeting (and me personally when I asked him) that each property would be photographed prior to grinder pump installation – the restored to its original state; just one more lie among many. The entire project must be stopped!
    Den Settles
    Dump the Pumps, Inc.


    • M_Blank says:

      I think grinder pumps/low pressure systems have their place. But going on private property is a major downside. You have to be really careful. In the right-of-way there’s a mechanism for contacting the local utilities and having them come out to mark their facilities. I bet they do have a pre-construction video and/or pre-construction photographs. That’s a protection for both the contractor and the property owner. In fact, I’m sure it would have been required by the contract. Your neighbor could ask FKAA for a copy.


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