Friday, February 27, 2009

Big Coppitt Main Force

Big road works on Big Coppitt mean that Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority is digging in new sewers on Overseas Highway and what is good news for the waters surrounding the Keys is bad news for drivers trying to get past the mile long dig.The highway remains open but traffic tends to slow to a crawl along Mile Marker 10, as drivers gawp at the big bad back hoes doing their job:The main force project is aqueduct-speak for putting in sewers, a project that will be good for the reef no doubt, after twenty years of procrastination and delay. The reef has been dying and shrivelling up for years as everyone stood around and wrung their hands in despair, even as they shit into septic tanks which "filter" the waste through limestone rock. I have no doubt agricultural run off from the Everglades and any number of other factors hurt the reef, but septic tanks just seem an obvious problem in need of a solution. And here it is, one slow, expensive mile at a time:The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority is responsible for piping water to Key West from the South Florida aquifer and they do the job very well. You would have thought a complex job like sewering the Lower Keys would be right up their street. Not so our previous county commission, whose majority signed off an a sweet heart deal with a very shady outfit to sewer Stock Island. It was a cock up of Ruritanian proportions. The commissioners opposed to the deal were even denied golfing privileges at the public course thanks to Resort Utilities connections there, meanwhile residents of Stock Island found sewage backing up into their homes and plans for the project never made it to the county offices as promised prior to the start of construction. Connections were thus built incorrectly, pipes were of the wrong size; it was a scandal created by the county Gang of Three in charge of the county commission and their lax oversight.A state audit revealed unauthorized expenses including charging the company owner's family's private cell phones to the tax payers of Stock Island and a request for a massive rate increase was rejected. The Aqueduct declined to take over the misery of the Stock island project and that mess exists to this day. I was ready to go ballistic if the county was going to foist Resort Utilities on my island but fortunately we have a commission made up of sensible people and the new county manager seems incorruptible and (amazing!) competent, so the Aqueduct Authority is now in charge of sewering. We breathe a sigh of relief.Like the Aqueduct, Toppino is not a construction company that messes around either. They are the family that made their name in the early twentieth century helping to build Flagler's railway and they have thrived ever since. The work itself has gone smoothly enough, well off to one side of the remaining lanes on the Highway:It's a pain in the neck for people who live in the area no doubt, dealing with the dust and the confusion and it can't be much of a picnic for the businesses that line the overseas Highway to the north:There's Hitch King, Bobalu's Southern Cafe, Tina's vegetables, the Mobil gas station (with Dion's chicken!), a used car dealer and a church too. I have high hopes that once the work is done there will be a proper sidewalk and bike path and quite likely a proper turn lane down the middle. Traffic has always been a bit stop-and-go on Big Coppitt thanks to cars turning off the roadway and blocking traffic. A nice big fat turn lane in the middle would work wonders...I guess for someone viewing the pictures from under a snow drift it must look a bit odd to see so much dusty construction in February:And this is the big traffic time of year, when all those snowbirds, as winter residents are called, are joined by numerous visitors to create unusually crowded streets in the Lower Keys (seen here gassing up at $2:10/gallon):I have no doubt work will continue through the summer when heavy rains will turn dust to mud and temperatures will rise with the humidity. After all, the work is supposed to be done by 2010, an impossible deadline thanks to the idiot procrastinators, and you can bet Monroe County is holding out it's hands for some stimulus money. This is a "shovel ready" project if ever there was one! As the cost, in 21st century dollars, could amount to $20,000 a home, we could sure use some stimulating!