The Free Press covered the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District’s January 17th meeting. Sounds interesting. Robby Majeska was chosen as the replacement for Norm Higgins, who passed away unexpectedly in late December. Majeska gave up his seat to run for the District 5 county commission seat against the Odious Sylvia Murphy. Majeska will do a great job, just like he always has.
Prior to the board meeting. state Rep. Holly Raschein R-Key largo, and Tiffany Lorente, an assistant to Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, held an open forum to discuss the fate of the Cross Key neighborhood at mile marker 112. Cross Key residents are concerned about not being compliant with the stare’s mandatory sewer hookup and potentially facing a $500-a-day fine. They have called upon the district to provide that service, as outlined in the legislation establishing the district.
District officials, however, say providing service to the handful of residents living on Cross Key would cost in excess of $6 million.
The District is actually requesting a legislative change to their boundaries in order to exclude Monroe Park/Cross Key from their service area. The folks in Cross Key will be left to muddle through the sewer project on their own, and they are not very happy about it.
I don’t know where the $6 million figure came from. That number conflicts with an analysis done in December 2015, which placed the estimated project cost at $2 million. Of course I asked about it. I’m relieved to report that nobody burst into tears just because I asked a question. In response, District staff blamed Theresa Java, the author of the Free Press article for getting it wrong. Here’s the thing though, David Goodhue of the Keynoter/Reporter made the same exact error. The Free Press makes plenty of mistakes (to put it charitably), but this is quite a coincidence. Two reporters from competing newspapers messing up the exact same thing? Maybe they share notes?
From Goodhue’s story…
District officials say extending the centralized sewer system to the mile marker 112 subdivision is too expensive and the district would not generate enough rate-payer revenue to justify the cost. District General Manager Paul Christian said just trenching a pipe to the area would cost at least $6 million.
“It’s not economically feasible,” Christian said Tuesday.
Yes, running a line up to Cross Key would be prohibitively expensive. That’s why the District evaluated two options in December 2015. Serving the area with a small package plant was estimated to cost about $2 million. There are roughly 135 EDU’s in Monroe Park. That would work out to be roughly $15,000 per EDU. Not bad. It’s far less than the per EDU costs of Big Coppitt or Cudjoe Regional. Both of those projects average over $20,000 per EDU. In fact, it’s somewhat less than the per EDU cost of the District’s grinder pump project, which was $18,000 per EDU if I remember correctly.
The Free Press article by Theresa Java went on to say…
Raschein is proposing to amend legislation to make the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority responsible for ensuring that Cross Key residents move forward with onsite sewage treatment.
I don’t imagine that the folks in the Cross Key area would care if the FKAA provided service rather than the District. I think they are more upset about being kicked to curb on spurious grounds. And justifiably so.
I appreciate that Rep. Raschein is looking out for the property owners up there by attempting to assign responsibility to another entity rather than simply leaving them on their own. My understanding is that the FKAA has EPA grant money to provide onsite systems. If that’s the case, it actually makes sense for them to take over.
Also interesting was this bit from the Keynoter/Reporter article…
Some of the residents said the district should have used some of the $17 million grant it received from the state in 2015 to help build a wastewater treatment plant in Cross Key and other remote communities on the 18-Mile Stretch and State Road 905.
“I’m deeply disappointed those funds were not used,” said Raphael Gonzales.
I don’t disagree. That certainly would have been my preference as well, especially seeing how things have worked out so far.
Christian and the five-member board of commissioners consider paying down the debt on the district’s $160 million centralized sewer system a top priority, and the swap with the county is an effective means of doing so.
Raschein agreed and defended the agreement with the county. “We’d be paying through the nose to this day had the state not provided those funds,” she said.
Raschein is referring to the swap agreement, which is a good idea in theory. But here’s the very unfortunate thing: Key Largo ratepayers are still paying through the nose. The swap agreement hasn’t changed that yet, and there’s no indication that it ever will. The District has not taken any steps to provide financial relief. That being the case, it would have made more sense to spend the money on projects as the state intended. Besides, the county has already proven itself to be dishonest and unreliable on many occasions. Not sure trusting them to pay back $17 million was prudent. But the commissioners committed us to the maneuver and we’re stuck with the decision they made on our behalf.
I very much appreciate what the state has done for Key Largo. It’s up to the sewer commissioners to see to it that the ratepayers actually benefit from it.