Guest Column: Cudjoe Sewer System / What Is Everyone Complaining About and How Did We Get Here?



by Bill Hunter…….

Why have so many groups been complaining about the Cudjoe sewer system? They insist they don’t want their concerns to slow down the project and they agree that a well designed sewer system will improve water quality in canals and near shore waters. It seems the “well designed” is what they question.  We will get to that but let’s take a moment to remember how we got here.

Back in 2008, the new county administrator looked at the county sewer fund that had been depleted by infrastructure projects like the Hickory House and the Vandenberg. He realized no state or federal funding was in sight and the county was facing a 2010 state mandate to sewer the remaining Keys. The county and FKAA started looking at ways to trim the cost of the estimated $ 200M Cudjoe project in case the county had to fund the whole thing.  A consultant created a decision tree that favored low pressure grinder pumps, and in 2009 the treatment plant capacity was “averaged down” to allow shallow disposal wells. With no money in sight, everyone waited.

In 2012 the governor surprised everyone with $ 50M in funding for “new jobs.”  Construction contracts had to be signed by February 2013. The only way to meet this deadline was “design-build” contracts for some of the collection systems, leaving design decisions up to the bidder, and the contract award going to the lowest bid. The county also had to get the Infrastructure Sales Tax extended. By prioritizing sewers, roads and bridges in their informational talks, and assuring everyone would get a piece for municipal projects, the extension campaign worked – voters provided more money than was needed.

Well, the decision tree and the design build contracts succeeded in a reducing the system cost from $ 200M to under $ 150M. It also changed the plans from 600 to 2800 grinder pumps. With February 2013 only months away, there was no time to regroup. FKAA and the county were faced with signing these design build contracts or losing the state money. The new hybrid system wasn’t primarily gravity with deep wells at the plant, but it would work. The contracts were signed.

As residents learned the details, questions began. If the tax extension made the money available, why is the system being built on the cheap? It was pretty clear that grinder pumps were being used to save money, not make it a better system. It is now becoming clear that the treatment plant, with a capacity to handle 2.35 million gallons of waste water a day, has been designed with multiple shallow wells to handle the flow. Averaging heavy and lighter flows, and reducing inflow estimates may get the permit numbers right on paper, but there is a state wide one million gallon deep well “trigger” for a reason. Here on our tiny islands surrounded by a fragile marine environment, that reason is even more important.

Some say this AWT outflow is one step from drinking water, but it is a long way from meeting state near shore water quality standards. It is many times higher than the current nutrient loading of surrounding canals. This sewer system was supposed to improve near shore water quality. Where do we think all this AWT outflow is going to go?


Bill Hunter is a resident of Lower Sugarloaf and has been active in his community by staying involved in county discussions and keeping his community informed. He has been closely following the issues surrounding the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.

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  5 Responses to “Guest Column: Cudjoe Sewer System / What Is Everyone Complaining About and How Did We Get Here?”

  1. It’s a question of pay now or pay (a lot more) later. Anyone with even cursory knowledge of Keys geology (porous limestone) and shallow injection wells is horrified that shallow wells are being considered. Deep well injection, for treated effluent still containing human viruses and residual pharmaceuticals, is the only logical way to go.

  2. Thanks for the history. I would have been a lot harder on FKAA and BoCC, but one point to add is that the effluent is going to be stripped of nutrients, not other chemicals like antibiotics ( your anti-bacterial hand soap?) and endocrine disrupters and such. The shallow wells will probably allow for migration both horizontally and vertically into the near shore waters.

  3. I hope Banks Prevatt and Walt Drabinsky will chime in with the far less prettier parts of this well-done how this got started report, which ends with the reason for sewering the Keys in the first place: end water pollution in the Keys.

  4. With all that the Sir Isaac Newton and Dump the pumps groups have found on these grinders and how bad they are for anyone, not only our enviromental area. 100 plus showed up at the meet in the BOCC chambers 1-31-2014. They were aware of our investigation findings prior to. No doubt they were sold a bill of goods by SUPER salesmen. But the FKAA,BOCC and DEP should have done this investigation on their own before purchasing them. Still with everyone being shown every piece of evidence uncovered, they still keep digging. I recently recieved a 30 day notice from the FKAA to sign the easment or face possible additional cost. That my friends is a threat, even while facing a hearing in August they continue to jam it up or down ours. Someone is in cahoots with someone making a ton. I just wish the Grand Jury would investigate this. But when the Gov ignors state funds being spent unwisely after knowingly ignoring our many many letters to him advising him of the same, it makes you wonder. The one cent tax ext we voters approved being spent on pet projects by the BOCC. Thats misappropriation of tax funds. You or I do that ? We go to prison, and they are no different. Walt and Banks personal dedicotion and involvement in this fight has to be commended and we certainly thank them and all the others too many to list here..
    Terry Beeman Sr
    Upper Sugarloaf

  5. This system was not just selected to be cheap in up front cost as the article politely suggests. Vacuum sewer collection would have been far cheaper and far better if money were the motivation. And with vacuum, nobody would be forced to give up property rights or additionally subsidize construction by providing power to County equipment in their yard. Even the “design-build” one of the sewer contracts was pre-designed to be E-One brand grinder pump based. Even the gravity collection system is unconventional and based on E-One grinder pumps. This pump creates pressures higher than the working or test pressure of pipes and fittings. When there are ruptures and breaks, raw sewage will be injected into the tidal ground water and will be very unlikely to be found and repaired. This system is worse than what it replaces in every way possible. Of course people who are aware are upset!

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