Rockridge Community, Vero Beach, FL.

Mea Culpa...

During the August 30 Community Meeting we were told by county staff that all 216 homes in area N-3 would be sewered with grinder pumps. I started this series of articles soon thereafter with the goal of discouraging the use of “low pressure” sewer pumps in favor of the much preferred vacuum system. In the Oct. 18th post “Let’s Talk About the Money”, I made the following statement: “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”.  Well, mea culpa…because the Rockridge neighborhood of Vero Beach did exactly that.

Rockridge, FL

Rockridge is an unincorporated community of 416 homes in Indian River County, Fl. and is closely associated with the city of Vero Beach. For more than 20 years Rockridge residents relied on low-pressure grinder pumps for their sewer needs.  The system apparently worked satisfactorily unless there was a power failure, at which point the grinder pumps were rendered useless.  And in 2004 that’s exactly what happened… big time.

Three Major Hurricanes

First Charley hit Punta Gorda.  Then came Hurricane Francis and three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne, both making landfall near Ft. Pierce. Rockridge lost electrical service for two extended periods of time, ten days after Hurricane Francis and 14 days after Jeanne.  Without electricity, the community’s low-pressure grinder pump system was shut down.  It seems that the residents had to evacuate, because the President of the Rockridge Homeowners Association had this to say: “It was bad. When we came back, everything had to be destroyed, the sheetrock, the furniture, the carpets… we had to spray everything with bleach to kill the bacteria.  Rockridge is primarily a retirement community and many of the homeowners are in their eighties, so it was especially difficult for them”.

Low Pressure Sewer System Condemned

When it came time to rebuild, the various agencies that looked at the system of grinder pumps all declared the system condemned.  They saw no need to repair a system so susceptible to power loss and prone to environmental nightmares.  The decision was made to install a new vacuum sewer system to serve the Rockridge  community.

Benefits to Residents

With the vacuum sewer system, the residents of Rockridge no longer fear losing use of bathroom facilities when the power goes out.  There will still be hurricanes and power failures, but the standby generator at the central vacuum station will automatically and immediately restore power so there is no interruption of sewer service.  Furthermore, if there is a power failure at an individual home, it will still have functioning sewer service.

With vacuum sewer, two to three homes are served by one vacuum valve pit buried adjacent to the street.  In the rare cases where service is required, workmen can access the pit quickly and easily without having to dig up the homeowners private property.  There are also no more electricity costs to homeowners.  For the 416 Rockridge residents, this is a collective savings of over $18,000 a year.  And not only will they have fewer sewer problems, they will also enjoy higher property values.

The HOA’s President, Phil Carpenter, closes with this statement:  “[vacuum sewer] is the way to go. It’s a great system that is reliable during power outages and works wonderfully.”

Lesson Learned

I don’t know the full 20 year history of the Rockridge sewer system, but it ended as a colossal  failure.  Why don’t we skip the failure part and go right to the success?  Do we need to experience the Rockridge debacle before we decide that we don’t want grinder pumps?                                                  Think about it.

Credits

The Rockridge vacuum sewer, along with the removal of the existing low pressure system, was designed, permitted, and supervised by Weston & Sampson Consultants.   The project manager was Donald A. Eckler, P.E.  The vacuum sewer system used was AIRVAC.

Links to Source Material:

Weston & Sampson

AIRVAC in Rockridge

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