Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ramrod Sewers

The cost is expected to total something like 200 million dollars but Monroe County is moving forward with the creation of a sewer system all along the Keys. The island I live on, Ramrod Key is undergoing the first stage of this invasive surgery. Observed by the local wildlife, God rot the iguanas and their nasty penchant for eating my vegetable plots.The county has spent the last two decades valiantly procrastinating this job. The city of Key West tore up it's streets in a giant dust storm a decade ago and wrapped up it's sewage system and superb treatment facility before the county even figured out it was time to get serious. Now that time has come and the State of Florida was threatening all kinds of sturm und drang if the job wasn't done by 2010 but they've relented and extended the deadline to 2015 without fail! It was pretty obvious that getting the Keys sewered by 2010 was a pipe dream, so to speak. Now they are giving it all they've got. And, check this out, there is a bike path going to be built on top of the sewer line! Cool! While I am a big fan of bicycle paths and look forward to not having to share the shoulder with dopes driving cars and handling phones at the same time, the person that designed this bike path needs to be taken some place quiet and educated and then shot. In this next picture you will see the new bike path joining the old Flagler bridge across Niles Channel. Which would be excellent if the old bridge wasn't cut in two to allow tall boats to pass under the new (tall) road bridge. The bike path is effectively a path to nowhere.... This is the old Flagler Bridge which makes a fine fishing pier... but you can't get to Summerland Key this way and if you are on a bike this is where the new bike path essentially ends. Lame, no?It's not the end of the world for someone like me who is ready willing and able to hit some pea rock or grass between the new path and the shoulder on the road bridge but this beautiful path that crosses a mile and a half of island needs to be connected to make proper sense.
Instead the engineer who designed this is sending a message that travel by bicycle, as anything more than a recreational tool, is not to be encouraged. It rather reminds me of the brilliant minds that used to allow bicycles to be loaded onto bike racks on the Lower Keys shuttle buses between Marathon and Key West. That program was so successful (obviously!) they shut it down. Instead of finding ways to encourage alternative transportation they just said: Screw it! No more bikes on buses... Who are these people who can't think or be creative!Granted the shoulder on Highway One bridges aren't that wide but they are entirely usable by bicycles:Th work is proceeding apace and there are casualties, in the flora. This tree is still alive even as it provides inadequate shade for the back hoe.This next one wasn't so lucky, yet the workers still propped it up with pieces of wood. I hope there is a better landscape plan for the final product, but just getting a bike path in these financially strapped times seems lie a deal to me:The whole business of putting sewers the length of the Florida Keys is not without controversy as you might imagine. The cost of individual home hook ups has yet to be assessed, and the numbers vary between a low of around $7,000 and up to $20,000 if all governmental subsidies are withdrawn. The idea is to add the cost of the sewer assessments to utility bills for the individual parcels and spread the repayment plan over a period of time, probably twenty years. Which, rationally speaking, seems entirely do-able to someone like me.However, as surprising as this may be, not everyone views the installation of modern sewers as a good thing; it turns out not very many people at all are like me, to everyone's chagrin I'm sure. Indeed there are many people who grumble loudly at the cost and the bother and argue that things should be left exactly as they are. And if you want to know how things in the toilet line work right now, read on. If not just look at the pictures.The way it works right now is that each home has it's own cesspit, and these are supposed to filter all the waste produced by 50,000 permanent residents and millions of visitors. Because these islands are made out of limestone rock they do a terrible job of filtering all that waste, and the result is horrendous pollution, or possibly not. The really odd thing about the sewer debate is the total lack of numbers. It is beyond doubt that the coral reef is deteriorating, whether it's because of human waste in the water or because of agricultural run off from the Everglades or some other thing (climate change?) no one really knows. Nitrates in the water running into Florida Bay do seem to be established as responsible for algae blooms off the Upper Keys but there is no doubt the reef is deteriorating and you'd think shit in the water would be a common sense reason to try to make that one change at least. But we are not a people renowned for our common sense, are we? So the merits of sewers lumbers on in the popular imagination as a subject for debate.Meanwhile the sewers themselves are getting planted at long last, and every time I ride past the road works i wonder why this project wasn't started twenty years ago. We have to do it now when the country is broke!
Happily the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority is in charge of the work and they seem to be doing a fine job. The first round of sewer installation was carried out by a contract given to a very dubious organization called Key West Resort Utilities that not only did an abysmal job of hooking up the new system (back flows of shit into homes were reported all over the place) they were also investigated for cheating their customers and charging family expenses to the business. After that fiasco, despite friendships between commissioners and the Resort Utility executives the county was obligated to go the public route and awarded the contract to the boring, reliable, capable Aqueduct Authority. Good for Ramrod Key residents, crap (literally) for Stock Island.This is just the main line they are installing so we will soon see side streets torn up and all that kind of annoyance, but I find it hard to be critical of a plan that will get human waste out of the ocean. I guess that makes me a radical huh?The new bike path is showing signs of how nice it will be once it's done, check out this kerb:
The work is stretching off into the distance. Up next, I suppose the Torch Keys then Big Pine, then the world!And this is the other end of the bike path, at the Shell station (slowly being transformed from a Chevron, much to my delight) :
I am impatient, I want it to be finished but I am glad it's getting done at long last.