Letters – Cudjoe Lawsuit and Canals

truth-257159__340It’s well-known that the Cudjoe Regional sewer project is a train-wreck.  It’s been mismanaged from top to bottom by Monroe County and their “partner”, the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA).  Not only is it needlessly expensive and $49 million over budget, but it’s also been the subject of many lawsuits.  There’s a good letter to the editor on the Citizen’s website about the latest one.

In the last few weeks, I have read several newspaper articles that included quotes and heard a radio interview with Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority’s Executive Director Kirk Zuelch that were fraught with misinformation.

Well, that’s par for the course.  It is very rare that Keys media actually checks into what they’re told by the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA).

Zuelch claimed that the DOAH already heard a similar complaint: “we have been here before.” He claimed the grinders were judged fine. That is untrue. The Dump the Pumps complaint protested construction permits for an unsafe, fatally flawed overall design that does not even meet minimum standards. Nowhere did it address the specific wrong of grinder pumps being placed on private property against the owners’ will, and those owners being required to subsidize construction with an expensive electrical circuit at their own expense.

True.  Citizens groups have sued over the project for a variety of reasons, including concerns over the collection system design and the effluent disposal method.  This particular lawsuit is exactly as described in the letter.  Two homeowners are asking that the grinder pump stations be placed in the right-of-way adjacent to their properties rather than within an easement on their properties.  This lawsuit addresses an entirely different issue.

Zuelch claimed that “The use of grinder pumps has saved a lot of people a lot of money” and “… we pay the majority of the costs” [of connection]. He’s a politician-lawyer, and with due respect, has no clue about connection cost.  I am a licensed plumber and GC and can assure you that those with a grinder pump in their yard usually will pay more for a connection than their neighbor connecting at the street. The minimum electrical circuit costs about $1,000 and requires a subcontract. Electrical quotes reportedly have run to $6,000.

The cost of the Cudjoe Regional project is astronomical – $196 million or $22,000 per EDU.  (An EDU is equivalent to a single family home.)  It is the most expensive sewer project in the Keys.  This project didn’t save anyone anything, and it’s silly to suggest otherwise.

Whether a grinder pump will save a particular property owner money depends on the characteristics of the individual property.  Properties with long uphill runs are more cost-effectively served with grinder pumps.  Small lots are more cost-effectively served with a gravity run.  Unfortunately, a utility can’t try to please every single property owner.  Ultimately, decisions have to be made based on what is best for the customers in the aggregate.

But, the letter writer goes on to point out that cost isn’t the only consideration.

[…]what are privacy and property rights worth? Let those who might save money request grinders on their lots. Justice requires that others have their expenses, property rights and privacy maintained equal to others.

Yup.  I’ve gone on and on about financial fairness here on the blog.  I won’t rehash that here.  But what about a property owner who just flat-out doesn’t want a grinder pump on their property?  What if they don’t want to deal with a contractor they didn’t hire?  Or the utility workers who are going to show up periodically?

Here’s the thing.  The FKAA has to secure an easement from these property owners in order to install a grinder pump on their property.  The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) won’t allow a single family property owner to install and operate their own grinder pump if it ties into a force main.  So the FKAA can’t just leave the homeowners to do it themselves.

If the property owners refuse to grant an easement, then the FKAA has a couple of choices.  They can condemn the easement or they can place the pump stations in the right-of-way.  As far as I know, neither the FKAA nor their “partner”, Monroe County, has clearly stated why placing the pump stations in the right-of-way is unworkable.  All we’ve gotten are nutty, over-the-top attacks against the plaintiffs.  If the county and the FKAA really have a case, then they need to make it.  All they’ve done so far is to attack the plaintiffs and make misleading statements to the public.

I’m curious to see how it all turns out.  I’ll be following with interest.

There’s another letter about canal restoration.  The letter-writer believes that the property owners who benefit from this enormously expensive project are the ones who should pay for it.  I’m 100% with the letter writer on this.  So far, there’s only one county commissioner who agrees with us.  I’m astounded that there’s even one, and I’m doubly astounded by who it is – Danny Kolhage.  This Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has a horrendous track record when it comes to equity and financial discipline.  And Kolhage has been the worst of the worst.  I imagine he’ll find a way to change his position, but for now he actually appears to be doing the right thing.

Based on statements made by some of the other commissioners, it’s not clear that even property owners on the canals – those who will actually benefit – support this project.  So…

  • Why is the BOCC pursuing it?
  • And why are we all being forced to pay for it?

Cost estimates have been have placed the cost of the project at anywhere from $200 million to $700 million.  County staff is now using $300 million.  We know from the county’s track record that the true cost of the project will almost certainly double.

Why is this enormously expensive, and seemingly unnecessary project being crammed down our throats?  Why don’t any of the commissioners oppose it?  And why is there only one commissioner standing for fairness and equity when it comes to financing this wasteful train wreck of a project?

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