Off Islands

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By Rodger Skidmore

All Longboat Key sewerage goes into Sarasota Bay
Fortunately for all concerned – and that includes people, sea grass, dolphins, manatees and fish – that raw sewerage is in a pipe. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Dave Bullock, Town manager of Longboat Key, thinks that the pipe has seen better days. Roughly 15,340 days, or, if one is into rounding, 42 years worth of better days. What is being said, by Bullock, as well as by Manatee County and Longboat Key commissioners, is that the pipe has got to go.

Actually, the fact that the town of Longboat Key and Manatee County are being pro-active on moving to replace this aging pipe means that they are ahead of the curve on this one. Ahead of Florida in general, most other states, and certainly the United States of America, in that they are addressing the problem of aging infrastructure. How many times do we read that some bridge has fallen down, some damn has burst or some road has washed out? Too many times.

So, what needs to be done now? Just to decide where to put the new pipe, when to do it, what to make it from, and how to pay for it. Sounds like four fairly big problems, but, actually not. Yes, they could run 10 miles of pipe back up the key, through Bradenton Beach and down through the village of Cortez. But, no matter how much fun it would be to propose that route just to see the reaction it would generate, it will most certainly follow the same route that it does now. That would be out of lift station D, near Gulf Bay Road, straight across the bay, and into the Manatee County Southwest Water Reclamation Facility on the mainland.

Once they know the costs, construction could begin early next year, with the pipe being completed in early 2017. The material would probably be some form of PVC or stainless steel and could be paid for by government grants (Yea! – Longboat Key residents, lets hear it for Big Government).

While, according to LBK Public Works Director Juan Florensa, the lift station was retrofitted about three years ago, the ages of all the feeder pipes are unknown. Another unknown factor is the size that the pipe should be. The original is 20 inches in diameter and was designed 42 years ago. Given the increase in population and the increase in the size of the individuals of said population, maybe a 30-inch pipe should be considered. Or it could be built like an expand-a-belt so that every 10 years it could go up a notch.

Did we write earlier that LBK and Manatee County were ahead of the curve? Well, here we go again. We all read about the sister pipelines to the proposed XL oil pipeline bursting and dumping crude oil into our country’s pristine rivers. This new sewerage pipeline should never drop any crud (or crude) into the bay because they propose adding a monitoring system so that the condition of the interior of the pipe is continually known. No, they won’t be able to find your diamond ring, but they should be able to do preventive maintenance before it is actually needed. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

What are the odds?
We previously wrote that LBK was considering putting all of its utility wires underground along Gulf of Mexico Drive so as to make Longboat Key a prettier place. People could then look up through the sun and moon roofs of their cars and not see unsightly wires blocking their view of the clear blue Florida sky while they text their brokers to buy more stock in FPL.

Well, things will have to remain ugly for a little while longer as a glitch has occurred. It seems someone has asked that age-old question, “How are we going to pay for this”? No, no, no, don’t worry; it will be paid for by property taxes. The question is, how to properly spread the pain of those taxes. Does everyone pay an equal share? And, what is equal? Should Gulf and Bay frontage pay on the old 80/20 basis? If someone already has their lines buried, should they pay less or nothing at all? And, of course, the biggest question to be asked by the commissioners is – if we get it wrong, will we be sued? The result, a delay until June and then maybe pass the buck and ask residents to vote rather than have the commission risk getting it wrong.

Given the region’s interest in supporting education maybe LBK should buy 10,000 Florida Lottery tickets each week. That is a drop in the bucket compared to the 42+ million dollar price for burying the phone lines and the town’s charitable contribution would make for a lot of good publicity. With 10,000 tickets each week there is a good chance of getting a winning number and, with a 200 or 300 million dollar win, they could actually cut taxes instead of raising them. To reduce the pre-win cost of winning the lottery, the town could accept tickets from residents and snowbirds, in lieu of property and sales taxes, on some shared basis.  In support of Governor Scott’s new emphasis on education the state legislature might even give LBK a grant for its efforts.

Down the drain
City Engineer of Bradenton Beach, Lynn Townsend Burnett, has been working on an equitable way to assess all property owners for stormwater assessment. The aim is to come up with a methodology that is both simple and fair.  As Hamlet says, “Aye, there’s the rub” – both simple and fair – not a chance. The proposal is to charge $4 for every square foot of land. No exceptions. Vice Mayor Jack Clarke said that “It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a chicken coop, a car dealership, a Circle K, or a condo that’s 10 stories high, the square footage of the lot is what we’re going on”. That takes care of the “simple” part of the equation, but the “fair” part? Not so much. If one has a chicken coop on sand, the water, during most of the year, drains right into the ground with no stormwater drainage problem. If it is a Circle K with a crummy paved parking lot, the water will pool until it evaporates. And if it is a 10-story condo, it is probably on raised ground so that all of the water runs into the street and into the storm drain, creating a humongous problem. So, not so simple to make it fair.




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