Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
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Grinder pumps versus gravity

The Monroe County Commission on Wednesday is expected to discuss the most cost-effective wastewater collection system for thousands of homes and businesses in the Lower Keys.

That discussion, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Marathon Government Center, likely will revolve around the use of grinder pumps and low-pressure technology proposed for some areas of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System project. Some residents have raised concerns about the long-term costs of that technology.

The debate comes down to types of collection systems -- low pressure and gravity. The gravity system is generally considered a better system, but initial installation can be more expensive, and thus not cost-effective for more remote areas with fewer hookups.

The Cudjoe Regional System is designed with a mix of low-pressure and gravity systems.

County Mayor George Neugent said he is concerned that the plans developed by the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority include too many grinder pumps and rely too much on low-pressure technology.

"I understand using a low-pressure system in the remote areas, but Cudjoe Gardens, Sugarloaf and Summerland are not remote areas," Neugent said. "You are going to have neighborhoods in which one side of the street is going to be using one type of technology and the other side is going to be using another type of technology."

The commission's discussion comes after Cudjoe Key resident and engineer Walter Drabinski reviewed the Cudjoe Regional plan and called the proposed equipment and technology "fatally flawed."

Drabinski, an electrical engineer and CEO of Vantage Energy Consulting, says the system the FKAA and county chose is initially cheaper, but will wind up costing significantly more in maintenance in the long run.

Drabinski also has questioned the use of two different types of systems, gravity and low-pressure.

The current plans call for up to 2,800 of the 8,800 homes to be serviced by a grinder pump and the low pressure system. Residents of Cudjoe Gardens, Big Pine Key and Sugarloaf Key would have a combination of gravity and low-pressure systems.

Drabinski proposed reducing the number of grinder pumps by two-thirds, and only placing them "where they make sense."

Aqueduct Executive Director Kirk Zuelch and his staff reviewed Drabinski's report and issued a formal response that disagreed with much of it, primarily for economic reasons. Zuelch said using only gravity systems throughout the entire Cudjoe Regional project would add an additional $30 million in up-front costs. The water utlity submitted its report to Monroe County officials, challenging Drabinski's findings.

The aqueduct authority commended Drabinski's efforts, but officials said his report "contains incorrect interpretations and calculation errors," according to Tom Walker, FKAA manager of engineering.

County and FKAA officials met with Drabinski last week to discuss his recommendations, but no changes have been made to FKAA's plan.

The roughly $180 million regional system will serve 10,000 homes and businesses from Big Pine Key to Sugarloaf Key.

Drabinski, the leaders of various homeowners associations and about a half dozen residents have indicated their intent to attend Wednesday's commission meeting and lobby for a change in the plans.


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