Archive for October, 2012

Farmington, Ct.

October 29, 2012

They don’t want grinder pumps, either…

The Township of Farmington is located in Hartford County, Connecticut and has a population of 25,000.  They are currently engaged in discussion regarding a plan to provide sewer to 95 properties within the township.  Although the governing structure is different, there are similarities to our N-3 area.  The Town Engineer is pushing for a system of grinder pumps and the residents, like us, don’t want them.  Their consideration has been between grinder pumps and a gravity system.  Their proposal calls for the residents to pay for the grinder pumps, but we need to remember this: cost is cost.  In our case the county says they will pay for the pumps… but they’re paying with our tax money!  One way or another, the property owners are going to pay for whatever system is built.

Here’s the Farmington story so far:

  • Nov. 2111: Residents are asked “Shall the Town appropriate $2.5 million for a low pressure sanitary sewer main…” (FarmingtonPatch 11/8/2011)
  • April 2012:  The referendum was rejected in 2011, but the Town Engineer asked again that the grinder pump option be considered because it is less costly. (Hartford Courant 4/25/2012)
  • June 2012:  Apparently the town council did reconsider the grinder pumps, because residents attended a public hearing on the project and unanimously voted against it. One attendee had this to say: “this has the potential of being a maintenance nightmare,” said resident Janet Turner.  “There’s the hassle of not being able to use the toilets in a power failure… and it could stigmatize our property when we go to sell it…I believe my potential loss could far exceed $20,000.” (FarmingtonPatch 6/15/2012)
  • July 2012:  At a recent meeting the Town Council unanimously rejected a grinder pump system for the 95 properties.  Twelve people spoke at the meeting and each was vehemently against the proposed system.  Comments from two residents: “It’s unfair and it’s hardly best practice to use a low-pressure system” said Jerry Walker.  His wife, Jo-Ann Walker put it more succinctly: “we think no means no”. (Hartford Courant 7/11/2012)  Another resident, Jennifer Egan, had this to say: ” I agree we need a system… but why is this the only thing being offered to us when the rest of the town has a system they don’t worry about when the power goes out?” (FarmingtonPatch 7/11/2012)

Please open the links and read the articles… let me know if I have overlooked or misrepresented anything.  I look forward to your comments.

Grinder Pump Emergency Procedures

October 27, 2012


In a recent post I printed an excerpt from the High Springs Grinder Pump Information brochure.  A neighbor questioned the directive to “have a camp bucket on hand for sanitary uses” during a power failure. The text was taken directly from their brochure.

Here’s the excerpt:


“Your grinder pump cannot dispose of wastewater without electrical power. If electrical power service is interrupted, immediately begin conserving water. Failure to conserve water in the event of a power failure could result in sewer overflows or backups. Minimize water use by not using your shower or bath. Do not store water in bathtubs or similar equipment connected to the sewer as an accidental emptying will fill the wet well. Wash your hands and bathe sparingly using an outside spigot. Have a camp bucket on hand for sanitary uses. Use your toilet only if absolutely necessary. The wet well for your grinder pump system may act as storage if used sparingly. The City will attempt to empty wet wells with available equipment as soon as possible, but will not be responsible for the cost of repairs to your home due to sewer overflows during an emergency”

Here’s the link to the Brochure:

Care and Use of Your Grinder Pump 2012

So, Who Is This Guy…?

October 26, 2012

By now there are probably a more than a few people asking “who is this guy  presuming to give us his opinion on sewer systems”.  I’ll conduct a self interview and try to answer some of your questions.

Who are you to be telling us what sewer system we should have?

I’m nobody in particular.  I have no expertise in sewer systems and until a few months ago I didn’t even know what a grinder pump was. But when I heard the term “Low Pressure” I got curious and I started reading.  I had assumed we were going to be served with a vacuum system (that’s also low pressure, right?) like most of the other areas, but I soon found out that “Low Pressure” means Grinder Pumps.

And now you’re an expert?

Not at all.  I’m simply trying to provide information, not my opinion. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Internet and have found a lot of information.  As I have previously stated, I have no qualification to judge the validity or the relevance of the material I find;  I’ll post what I find and let you decide.

What are your qualifications?

I worked for the Florida Power & Light Co. for 35 years.  I spent several years supervising construction crews, but for most of my career I designed electrical distribution systems. I am not a graduate engineer, but I spent the better part of my career  doing  engineering designs for subdivisions, shopping centers, and other commercial projects.  My last business card said “Large Projects Designer”, so I’ll go with that.  I worked with the folks at Giffels-Webster providing power to several vacuum stations in the Englewood area, so I have some knowledge of these systems in that regard.

Don’t you think the county engineers already have enough information?

The county has a very committed engineering staff that have been working on the PCSSRP for years. Several of them have been with the program from the beginning.  But they have a daunting task with over 14,000 customers to consider;  I’m concerned with 216.  I can devote 100% of my time to an area that represents about 1% of their total.   I hope that some of the data I find will be useful to them and to others involved in the decision making.

Why did you start this “information” thing?  What’s in it for you?

Good question… my wife asked me the same thing.  I really don’t have a good answer except that as a teenager I did a lot of typical rotten- teenager stuff (knocking down mailboxes, pushing over Porta-a-Johns) and never got caught. I don’t know how much community service I avoided back then, but I guess I’m making up for it now.  I’m glad to have the opportunity to do something for the community, but I am not an activist.  When this project is finished, so am I.

What outcome do you see for the N-3 sewer project?

The only thing I will predict is that the Sarasota County Commissioners will make the best decision based on the information presented to them.  I hope that some of the information I have found will help them in their deliberations.  I really have no ego in this and personally will be satisfied with their final decision, whatever that may be.  I have spoken with each of them and have full confidence in their individual and collective judgement.

Anything else?

No, except thanks for taking the time to read this.  If you have any more questions, email me.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work.

N-3 Neighborhood Update

October 25, 2012

Hello N-3 Neighbors,

Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting had a segment pertaining to our neighborhood  (Watch it here –  go BCC-Regular Oct 23,2012, view video, time stamp 05:29).  I found the conversations very encouraging… watch it yourself and send in your thoughts.  The Commissioners are obviously giving our project their serious attention. The staff presentation is scheduled for January 8th, but there is indication we may get to review the new data before the open meeting. I think we should all be very optimistic that our concerns are being seriously considered.

Let’s get involved!

P.S. At one point in the discussions (05:33) Greg Rouse, referring to me personally, said that he does not agree with my numbers.  I assume he meant this as a figure of speech, but please understand… the data I publish are not “my numbers”.  All the information I present comes from the staff presentations, material published on the Internet, or knowledgeable sources. I try to publish source links in all the articles, but if you have a question email me and I’ll provide the reference.  If I make any errors or misstatements, let me know and I’ll print a correction.

mike s.

Elements of a Life Cycle Cost Study

October 24, 2012

Life Cycle Cost defined

It is “the sum of all recurring and one-time (non-recurring) cost over the full life span of a system. It includes purchase price, installation cost, operating costs, maintenance and upgrade costs, and remaining salvage value at the end of its useful life”.  And here’s what Stantec Consultants’ computerized program includes:  “capital costs, aesthetics, serviceability, inflation rate, interest rate, depreciation rate, operating efficiency and maintenance costs”.  (Whew!)

What do we really need to consider?

The Pareto Principle tells us that 80% of the total cost can be attributed to 20% of the elements of the study.  So let’s look at these two:  estimated Capital Costs and the anticipated O&M.


Capital Costs – This one is really pretty easy.  Using the design drawing, a list of materials is compiled and each item is extended to show the individual material units and quantity required  (If the design shows 216 lots to be served, then the required number of grinder pumps is 216).  Then the labor cost for each material unit is listed.  If there are 216 grinder pumps required with a unit cost of $6000 and a labor cost of $2000, the estimated total for that line item would be (216 x $6000) + (216 x $2000) = $1,728,000. The rest of the material items (pipe, valves, connectors, clean-outs, etc.) are similarly  tallied.  Another item that needs to be included in this category is the individual cost we each incur to run the 220v – 30 amp circuit from our panel to the pump.


Operating and Maintenance Cost – This element of the study is a little more vague, as it requires assumptions rather than straightforward estimates.  An estimate tells us that we need 216 grinder pumps. If, during construction, it is discovered that there are actually 217 homes in our “enclave”, we simply order another pump and the final cost of the project goes up by $8000.  The O&M figures are assumed costs that will occur in the future (here’s where we find the “wiggle room”). These costs are projected out over a given time period and then converted to Present Value.  If there is a bias in favor of a particular system, the costs will be assumed  lower and the resulting PV will be lowerIf there is negative bias, the costs will be assumed higher and the PV will be higher.  This is why an impartial analysis is critical to a meaningful cost study.  I am not suggesting that the upcoming Technical Memorandum will be anything but a totally unbiased report… but sometimes you can’t see the forrest for the trees.

Another component that must be included in this category is the cost to power these pumps.  Cost is cost… it doesn’t matter whose pocket it comes out of, it must be included in the calculations. The homeowner’s cost to power a grinder pump cannot be omitted just because it’s not paid by the county. It’s an expense of a grinder pump system…  and for our N-3 area that expense is $186,800.68 (see Present Value – Oct. 19). 

(to be continued)

3376 S. Seclusion Dr.

October 22, 2012

Potential Vacuum station site: 

The house at 3376 South Seclusion Dr. has been unoccupied for months.  It is listed on Zillow for $125K with an estimated value of $120.5K  (listing note: “land value only… existing home needs to be torn down”).

This may be an ideal location for a vacuum pump station.  There is a FPL feeder main on the west boundary (Tuttle Ave) for an adequate power supply and there is vacant county property to the south.  It is a heavily wooded lot, so it should not be visually objectionable to the neighbors.

The  cost data sheets we were shown for Vacuum did not include a site acquisition figure, but certainly it was more than $125,000!  This seems to be an ideal opportunity to purchase a site at a real bargain.

Present Value formula

October 19, 2012

I’ll be writing on Elements of a Cost Study next week.  In the meantime here’s something I’ve been thinking about…

When this formula was presented at the Community Meeting I was, well…  perplexed.

I knew I had seen it before, but I really didn’t understand it and I didn’t know why it was being shown to me now.  So I set out to educate myself on PV,  and it’s close relative, FV.  Turns out to be really quite simple:  Present Value (PV) is the amount of money you need today to pay for a series of payments to be made in the future, over a given time period  at an assumed interest rate.   Future Value (FV) is the sum of  a series of payments (investments) over a given time period, also at an assumed interest rate.

This relates to us in N-3 something like this: the additional charge on our FPL bill for a grinder pump will be about $4 per month.  There are 216 of us, so 216 x $4 x 12 months = $10,368 per year.  Let’s use 40 years (instead of 20) for the term and 5% (instead of 7%) as the interest rate.  You can plug it into the PV formula (or use this handy calculator ) and you’ll get $186,800.68 that should be added to the cost of our grinder pump system (the county won’t see it on their bill, but we’ll see it on ours).

Now let’s look at that $48 per year from each of us going instead into a community account for, let’s say, a new community center.  In 40 years the same $10,368 per year at 5% would be (calculator) $1,252,452.06 in Future Value.

I know we’re not going to save up a million dollars for a new community center, but let’s get the county to give us the credit for the $187,000 they’re asking us to pay to power a grinder pump system.

mike s.

Comment from a knowledgeable neighbor:

 “ future value is the amount of money needed at a specific date in the future that is equivalent to an amount of money today” and “everyone should know the value of every additional cost that we need to pay that the vacuum (or gravity) people don’t have to pay”.

Let’s Talk About the Money…

October 18, 2012


The Value of True Life Cycle Cost

I’m going to spend some more time on the topic of cost studies because I think that cost will be the main factor in determining what system we end up with.  As residents of N-3,  I‘m sure that our wants and wishes will be considered, but in the end it will be about the money.  I have gathered a lot of information that I hope will be useful in evaluating the forthcoming Technical Memorandum being prepared by county staff.  Here’s some commentary from Tyler J. Molatore, Systems Engineer, Orenco Systems®, Inc:

“Life cycle costs take all costs into account, which is particularly important for small communities, because communities bear the responsibility of maintaining the system, for the life of the system, after it is installed.  Upfront costs may be misleading because they only represent one part of the overall cost of a system.

The full life cycle cost of a system is based on costs over time, while taking into account the component with the longest life cycle.  We suggest 60 years when communities are comparing the costs of conventional gravity sewers to the costs of other sewer technologies.  Why?  If the life cycle is set at 20 years, the analysis often ignores gravity sewer costs of repairing/replacing lift stations or repairing piping to reduce I&I (infiltration and inflow) at 50 years. (this is precisely the current state of the Goldenrod gravity system) Full life cycle cost analysis avoids unfairly burdening a community’s future generations with unexpected repair costs.”

“Real life data should be used to validate all manufacturers’ claims.  If possible, it’s best to visit, tour, and acquire data from alternative systems that have been operational for several years.Communities that are considering an investment in any sewer technology should diligently seek out other communities with comparable systems and ask about maintenance costs”.

We have many years worth of data from the Englewood area vacuum systems, but  do we have any long-term experience with grinder pumps?  In preparing the Greeley and Hansen 2007 Cape Coral study, David C. Hagan, P.E. sent surveys to several different utilities to get their experience (see pg.53-66).  Maybe we can do something similar.  I also hope that someone will contact the folks in High Springs, Fl. and James City County, Va.  There are very current and very interesting stories in both of those communities (I’ll write about them in the future).

So, What is Life Cycle Cost?

It is the total of all costs of a system over time.  To have real value it has to extend to the useful life of the system.  What is the useful life of a grinder pump system?  Whatever is put in our front yards next year is going to be in place for a long time…  but how long?  Will it be until the pumps have failed a number of times?  How many times?  It’s not just the pumps, it’s the entire system.  Once a system of grinder pumps is installed, they are not going to be pulled out and replaced with a completely new system in 20 years.  From information I have gathered, the benefit a grinder pump’s lower capital cost (if indeed it is lower) starts to be eclipsed by the higher operating cost at about the 15 year mark, so a 20 year projection really doesn’t capture the true cost of the system.  Replacing 5-15% of the pumps annually is expensive, but the real expense comes when the entire tank assembly has to be replaced.  I may not be around when the real expense kicks in, but somebody will!  Hopefully the folks that are deciding for us will look at the all experience that’s out there and make a decision that will be in the best interest of our future generations.

Next: Elements of a Life Cycle Cost Study

What’s the Plan?

October 14, 2012

Let’s see the layout

Before a meaningful cost study can be undertaken, a plan must be developed that shows what we propose to do.  (For our area that means construction drawings similar to those shown below). The progress of a construction drawing is something like this:

  1. preliminary design layout by project engineer
  2. various revisions, final approval for construction
  3. drawing available for bid
  4. incorporating notations from bid, revised drawing is released for construction
  5. working construction drawings – field changes are noted as work progresses
  6. drawings returned to project engineer to verify field changes
  7. changes verified and approved, record drawing is filed as-built

The drawing at stage 3 is used to do a material take-off. This results in a list of items needed for the project. This bill of materials, along with the corresponding installation Labor Units, gives us the labor and materials (L&M) estimates.  From the data sheets presented to us, we see 196 grinder pumps at $6000 each (Low Pressure System line item #12).  A current drawing would show 216 homes, so that would make the estimate for a grinder pump system $120,000 low… for just one line item!  (There are several other discrepancies, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time scrutinizing these sheets…  they’re hard to read and are presumably being completely redone).

What does a construction drawing look like?

Here are a couple of examples:

Archer Engineers, City of La Canada Flintridge, Los Angles, Ca.

Greeley and Hansen, City of Cape Coral, Fl.

As you can see, The Archer Engr. drawing is very detailed, down to individual lot connections.  The Cape Coral Layout is less detailed, but it does show the scope of the project.  I haven’t been able to find any drawings for our area, but hopefully the Technical Memorandum now being prepared will include up to date drawings similar to these.

What’s next…?

October 10, 2012

That About Covers the Community Meeting… What’s Next?
At the September 11 BCC meeting, eleven days after our Community Meeting, Commissioner Robinson asked the Board to delay the design and implementation of the grinder pump system currently designated for our N-3 area.  The Board unanimously agreed that an engineering reevaluation was necessary and the issue will be brought up again in January 2013. (watch the Board action here at 02:44:40)

County staff have said they will use this time for  “gaining citizen input and increasing communication with the community”.  I have not been asked for my input, so I will try to organize and post the data I have gathered.   My goal is to present this information to interested neighbors, planners, and the ultimate decision makers. Most of the information is taken directly from the Internet and I have no qualifications to judge the value or validity  of the data.  I’ll just present the material and let the reader decide.   I encourage you all to do your own research… see what you come up with and share it here.

Let’s Be Positive!
Some neighbors have said “ the County has made up its mind and there’s nothing we can do about it”. I don’t think that’s the case.  Commissioner Robinson has promised to “ look, listen, and read with an open mind”.  My experience is that she, along with the other Commissioners, will examine the information that has been gathered.  I am confident that their final decision will be based on a thorough evaluation of the data.

Our issue is due to come before the County Commission in January 2013 and I expect a decision will follow shortly thereafter.  I will publish all the information I can between now and then.

So…  stay tuned!

NOTE: A neighbor told me that she had registered her email at the Community Meeting, but had not received any updates. I do not have access to the email list from the meeting.  If you or your neighbors want these articles, contact me at n3sewers@gmail.comPlease Be Aware: “n3sewers” is not  the email for the N3 Committee.  It is the email for this blog  for which I am solely responsible. This blog and n3sewers email does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of all members of the N3 Committee.  My personal contact information is available here at the site.

mike s.