Stop us if you’re heard this one before.
A multi-million dollar community-wide project involving water management has been proposed and declared absolutely vital by Supervisor Ed Tinkle… with no push-back at all from the Gateway District’s engineering firm, Tetra Tech.
The problem this time around? Many areas of Gateway’s sewer system are apparently blocked beyond acceptable levels.
If GSCDD estimates are accurate, the cost of unclogging the sewers will be $2.3 million and thus represent about a 15% increase in your Gateway assessments for the next 5 years to clean the sewers system-wide. Any other projects the district wants to do next year would be in addition.
According to Tinkle, and this part seems highly likely, many areas of the sewer system haven’t been cleaned since they were built years or even decades ago.
So the Gateway Sun went to the well again (pun intended) and contacted the local civil engineering firm who have helped us to understand some of Gateway’s problems in the past.
When we explained what Tinkle wanted to do as best we could, the engineer told us, “Yes, it is definitely necessary to clean out the drainage system periodically.”
Okay. So it’s work that needs to be done.
Tinkle’s plan is to clean out the entire system once at the high cost, then institute a much cheaper maintenance routine where approximately 20% of Gateway’s sewers are cleaned every year, meaning the entire community would be cleaned in 5-year cycles.
Mr. Engineer? Your thoughts please?
(After the standard ‘without knowing more, or being able to perform inspections’ disclaimer, this is what they said:..)
“It is very difficult to predict how often this must be done as it is directly related to how much sand and debris gets into the systems. Many communities reserve for vacuuming out the catch basins every 10 years or so, so that is probably a good average. However we have seen communities go much longer without having obstructed systems. Often times, catch basins get filled with sand during construction and developers get away without vacuuming the systems at turnover so communities inherit a problem. Vacuuming the catch basins is pretty inexpensive (less than $100 each). Vacuuming out the pipes that connect the basins is much more expensive. Therefore, routine inspection/vacuuming of the catch basins is a good idea and relatively inexpensive.”
What about cleaning the entire system at a rate of 20% per year?
“Every 5 years may be more frequent than necessary, but if they pay attention to this as their plan moves forward they could modify it as necessary.”
So our preferred engineer didn’t balk at Tinkle’s 5-year plan, but it does seem as though they believe 20% per year may be a little aggressive. Seems their firm prefers a once per decade routine, adjusted over time as they learn, if I understand everything correctly,
Maybe a middle ground can be found at 8 years, or maybe it can even be stretched out to 10-15 years. But at least so far it seems Tinkle is on track over-all, according to an independent civil engineer who knows Gateway.
But when Tinkle attempted to create a sense of urgency during the meeting he lost a lot of momentum in his argument. The rest of the Supervisors weren’t buying that things were as dire as Tinkle said.
Tinkle said that “now we know” the 2017 flooding in Gateway Greens was caused by blocked sewers. Tinkle suggested that if the sewers weren’t dealt with then more flooding was a certainty.
Tinkle also said that residents were demanding the sewers be cleaned. He repeatedly said they would “scream bloody murder” if it didn’t happen.
We contacted Tinkle via email over the weekend to ask him about the flooding statement, and he backtracked slightly saying “What I tried to present was that our blocked storm sewers contributed to the flooding in Gateway.”
Like the other Supervisors, we have serious doubts about the claim the blocked sewers caused any flooding.
The main problem with the argument is that most of Gateway did not flood at all. The second problem is that the only community where we actually do know the reason for the flooding is Stoneybrook (how’s that trash baffle coming along?) and we know for a that fact water was not flowing out of the weir at the designed rate, which caused the floods. Not blocked sewers.
Contributing to our doubt, Tinkle’s go-to line at the meeting was that the sewers in Timber Ridge and Daniel’s Preserve were “80% blocked” as of 4 years ago. Yet despite how ominous that sounds those communities didn’t flood last year.
So where does that leave us?
Everyone seems to agree the sewers are overdue to be cleaned out. It’s a project that needs to be tackled, but the question is how quickly the GSCDD needs to move on it.
Tinkle believes most of Gateway needs it done pronto… And, of course, Tinkle wants his own community of Gateway Greens to be atop the list to get done in 2018 or 2019.
That obviously raised a few eyebrows, and I’m sure some red flags.
The other four Supervisors allowed Supervisor Doug Banks to be the one to challenge Tinkle’s suggestion that all of Gateway Greens be put out for bid immediately. Banks devised a strategy where cleaning the sewers in about half of Gateway Greens would be put out for bid on a piecemeal basis with many contingencies in the bid package, mainly to get a real idea of what kind of money we were talking about to clean out the entire community. Tetra Tech said they could divvy up that portion of Gateway Greens and comply with Banks’ requirements.
Tinkle didn’t think that was a good idea, but for him it was likely better than nothing so he went along. Chairman Margeret Fineberg, Vice-Chairman Bill Guy and Supervisor Kathleen Flaherty either agreed with Banks’ approach, or at the very least felt it was a reasonable enough compromise.
The board voted 5-0 to bid out about half of Gateway Greens in the way Banks specified to Tetra Tech.
It is worth noting that Tinkle’s figures that he presented were based on the most recent cost data available from Pelican Preserve cleaning out their sewers. So the $2.3 million figure does seem like a reasonably prepared guess.
But as Tinkle himself noted, “we won’t know for sure until we put it out on the street (to get bids).”
As it stands, each homeowner is looking at an additional $300 to $500 bill (total) from the Gateway Services District to clean out the sewers system-wide. Once that’s done, the cost of a maintenance plan will depend on whether the aggressive 5-year approach is implemented, or the Supervisors choose to listen to the alternative opinion of the civil engineer we contacted and stretch it out to 10 or more.
There are a few differences between the ponds and the sewer situations.
When it came to the ponds, local engineers were screaming in my ear saying things like the entire Lake Bank Restoration Project was a “sham”. Nobody else in that sphere that I spoke with agreed with what Tinkle wanted to do with the lakes. (In fact it was revealed at last Thursday’s GSCDD meeting that the South Florida Water Management District themselves questioned why Tinkle was being so “nit-picky” about the ponds in one of Gateway’s communities). Adding to the project’s problems, the GSCDD staff, engineers and board members could never get on the same page and ultimately the project stalled.
In contrast, with the sewers it does seem that the entire GSCDD is pulling in the same direction. They’re just pulling at different speeds. And hey, the chosen direction appears sensible to at least one professional independent outsider. So there’s that. Which is nice.
Our preferred engineering firm also brought up cleaning catch-basins to us, which Tinkle never mentioned. To be honest I’m not even sure what our engineering friend was getting at with the $100 catch-basin cleanings, but obviously Tinkle and Tetra Tech will know. I didn’t really follow up on that, I just cut and pasted what was said so the board and public could read it.
You don’t need a civil engineering degree to understand that junk builds up in sewers and every once in awhile it needs to be cleaned out. But I wasn’t impressed that Tinkle attempted to link the 2017 flooding to blocked sewers without offering direct proof.
To me, it came across as a scare tactic designed to get Gateway Greens taken care of quickly, and I’m glad the rest of the board wasn’t spooked and they want to take a more measured approach. That said, Gateway Greens is the oldest community in Gateway and logically should be one of the first communities on the list.
I asked Tinkle for a copy of the GSCDD’s footage from 4 years ago showing all the sewer blockage. He said he would meet with me (or any other resident) to show the video to them and explain it. So, fine. Tinkle and I are meeting at the district’s office building at 8:30am on Friday. If anyone else wants to be there, you’re more than welcome to join.
We’ll report our observations from the meeting with Tinkle next week.