The two property owners associations challenging the use of shallow wells at the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System treatment facility today submitted an offer to settle their litigation. The settlement offer by Cudjoe Gardens and Sugarloaf Shores property owners associations would allow for limited use of the shallow wells during construction of the required deep injection well and as a backup to that system so long as the use is kept low and additional water quality monitoring is conducted to ensure the safety of groundwater and nearshore waters.
“We note that although recent tests found that it is appropriate to use the shallow wells for startup and backup, it is silent on the impact on surface water of using the shallow wells for full flows. Given the slowdown in completion of the sewer system, we believe it is possible to use the shallow wells while the flows remain low,” Cudjoe Gardens POA President Larry Francisco said. “We have a chance to put this litigation behind us and let FKAA focus its attention on completing the project.”
The POAs’ offer would allow the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority to issue invitations to connect to the sewer system unless monitoring indicates the effluent is rising to the shallow waters surrounding the Cudjoe Key plant and adjoining landfill.
“Although the property owners associations’ case is strong and our geologist takes issue with the conduct of the recent well tests and the interpretation of the results as it relates to full operational flows, the POAs believe that a plan can be put in place to move forward while the deep well is being built,” said Sugarloaf Shores POA President Chuck Licis.
“By restricting the use of the shallow wells to very low flows, the settlement plan would not only protect the surface waters, but also create an incentive for FKAA to speed up the deep well. The 2009 permits called for a deep well in the future, and the funding to start the deep well process has been available since last year. It is time to get this job done,” Francisco said.
A Florida Department of Administrative Hearings officer is scheduled to hear the case in late October. A settlement would eliminate the need for that hearing, delay in the plant startup and the risk to taxpayers of extended legal cost as well as the potential cost for a second deep well to serve as a backup. The proposed agreement would also extend the period required for property connections to 365 days beyond startup with the deep injection well as opposed to the current requirement of one year following the invitation to connect.
Last week, commercial fishermen Don DeMaria and Mike Laudicina withdrew their lawsuit with FKAA, Monroe County and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection over the state permit needed to open the treatment plant.
“It is unfortunate that the attorney for the commercial fishermen had to withdraw due to a tragic medical condition. The POA petitioners believe the law is on our side and are hopeful that we can work out the details of a settlement with FKAA that will secure the protections for which we all have been fighting,” Licis added.