Archive for January, 2013

Sarasota County Website

January 31, 2013

Go online and enter…  here’s the page that comes up:

As the N-3 Neighborhood’s self-appointed “information guy”, I regularly visit the Sarasota County website to view Commissioner Email and to look for PCSSRP updates.  I have these pages bookmarked as “favorites”, so I don’t go to the homepage each time .  This is the page I routinely visit for sewer information:


Dawn Johnston, a neighbor from Area D4, recently pointed out to me that you cannot get to this “Sarasota County Sewers” page from the County’s Homepage. You can, however, find several hot-links on the Homepage that will take you to the page shown below:

(The most direct path is from the Homepage top bar > “Residents” dropdown menu > “Utilities”(far right) > “Sarasota Sewers”).

So, it appears that there are TWO county web pages for our septic tank/sewer program.  The site with the most information is titled “Sarasota County Sewers”, but you can’t get there from the County’s homepage… you have to type in “”. The irony is that when you click on a Sarasota Sewers hot-link on the homepage you are directed to a page titled “Phillippi Creek Septic System Replacement”, which has very little pertinent information.  You will, however, find the recently published “N3 FAQ’s” under Documents>Additional Info.

Another feature on the County homepage is the “search this site” box (top right of page).  Enter “PCSSRP” and you’ll find a list of documents relative to the program.  Scroll down nine items to “Area Updates” and you’ll find comments about our neighborhood.  I’m not sure how often this information is updated, but as of today, Jan 31st, the date shown for the BCC meeting is Jan 8, 2013.  We all know the date has been moved out to Feb 13, 2013.

Visit both sites and look around.  There is some useful information, but nothing really current.  The entries are not dated, but as in the example above, some speak for themselves.  The map are colorful, but not necessarily up to date.

Commissioner’s Email

In the bottom right hand corner of the County website you’ll find “Public Information”.  The second link down is “Commissioner Email”. Click on this link and you can read the Commissioner’s Email, but read the second sentence of explanation on the page. When you write a letter to the commissioners you will normally receive a personal reply, but this doesn’t mean your letter will be posted on the county website. All email to, from, and within the county is subject to the public records laws, but your letter won’t show up on “Commissioner Email” unless one of the commissioners forwards your letter to another commissioner, or to the County Administrator.  Your letter is part of the public record, it just doesn’t show up on the county website.  So, if you copy me on your letter to the commissioners, I will post it on the blog. It may not be published on the county’s website, but it will be read by the 165 subscribers to .


James City County, Va.

January 30, 2013

James City County, Virginia was established in the early 1600’s and bills itself as one of the oldest cities in America. Their history with grinder pumps doesn’t go back quite that far, but here’s what I’ve found.

Some Background…

Grinder pumps were first introduced to James City County in the mid 1970’s.  These pumps were installed by developers and are individually owned.  The early owners were offered a perpetual maintenance fee of $300 and eventually $600. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the James City Service Authority (JCSA) stopped and then resumed maintaining the pumps.  Grinder pumps have periodically been added to the system and, although the total number is unclear, in 2005 there were 230 of the lifetime maintenance contracts.  In May 2005 the JCSA recommended existing lifetime contracts be “grandfathered” in, but new customers would be subject to the annual fee, which at that time was $145.80

Why does the JCSA provide a Maintenance Program?

This was largely the decision of the General Manager of the JCSA.  His concern was that individual maintenance would not be at the same level of service provided by the JCSA.  The installed cost of a complete grinder pump assembly is approximately $12,000 (2006 dollars) ;  the pump assembly is approximately $3,000 and has a lifespan of 10-12 years. The maintenance agreement does not cover the cost of replacing the containment can when it is eventually rendered unusable by settling, tree roots or vehicle damage. The JCSA’s stated preference is to not have grinder pumps at all, but they expect no more than 5% of lots in new developments by served by grinder pumps.

Hurricane Isabel – September 2003

During Hurricane Isabel the JCSA found it did not have adequate resources to assure service to grinder pumps during extended power outages. After spending over $50,000 responding to grinder pump failures, they recognized that they could not provide service the 750 homes under grinder pump agreement and still maintain support to the remaining 16,500 JCSA customers.  Letters were sent to customers suggesting that they install a generator to run their grinder pump in the event of a power failure and at some point after their Isabel experience, the JCSA began a vendor maintenance program.

Vendor Contract Renewal – June 2011

Apparently the maintenance contract was due to expire, because on June 17, 2011 James City County issued a request for bids (11-4451) for Grinder Pump Maintenance.  On July 14, 2011 they held a Pre-Proposal conference that contained the following information:

  • A five year history of grinder pump contract  amounts and number of pumps covered:

2006 – $169,620 (771 pumps)

2007 – $190,940 (841 pumps)

2008 – $205,969 (877 pumps)

2009 – $209,068 (877 pumps)

2010 – $215,775 (885 pumps)

  • A total of 9 collection tanks have been replaced in the past 5 year (six in 2008 and three in 2009).  It is not stated how long these tanks had been in service, but the total cost was $55,330 (lowest cost was $5,000, highest was $10,630, average $6,147).
  • The number of grinder pumps replaced over the last five years:

2006/142, 2007/111, 2008/103, 2009/108, 2010/133

James City County

( 597 out of a total of 885 pumps replaced in five years)

Hurricane Irene – August 2011

On August 27, 2011 the Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily printed this…

6:46 p.m.: The James City Service Authority (JCSA) is monitoring water and sewer service. Grinder pump customers should be aware that they will experience loss of sewer service during a power outage. The loss of sewer service will only affect 800 grinder pump customers. For more information, call 757-564-2140. (remember the advice to purchase a generator?)

New Vendor Contract – September 2011

On Sept. 28, 2011 James City County issued proposal 12-4762 “soliciting qualified contractors to assume grinder pump service and repair responsibilities for the associated workload of responding to approximately 900 grinder pumps…”.  The proposal specifies that:

“the successful Contractor will maintain the ability to respond promptly to grinder pump emergencies twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and within two (2) hours of recieving calls from a homeowner”.

Perhaps the most significant bid instruction from the JCSA was this:

“Contractor should not request assistance from JCSA when a significant number of homeowners experience extended power outages. When considering pump and haul operations during power outages, JCSA found it impossible to support the large number of grinder pumps. This is because a grinder pump needs to be emptied at least twice a day and typically a two-person crew can only empty two or three grinder pumps per hour. With the number of units on the maintenance agreement list, the JCSA will not have the necessary equipment or staff to support a pump and haul operation during a power outage. As such, the JCSA cannot perform pump and haul operations for the Contractor during extended power outages”.

Contract Awarded – October 2011

On October 25, 2011, with one firm responding, a contract was awarded for a first-year annual cost of $217,109.  For 900 pumps that’s $241 per year per pump.  The current annual charge to residents is $260, so it’s just about break-even for the JCSA.

Links to Source Material:

Maintenance Contract Award

Proposal 12-4762

Proposal 11-4451

Grinder Pump History

Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily – Irene

JCSA FYI – Isabel

(ed. note: this story was originally published on Nov. 7, 2012)

Sarasota County’s Sewer Program – FAQ’s

January 30, 2013

On August 30, 2012 Sarasota County Staff held a public meeting to discuss the Grinder Pump sewer syatem proposed for our N3 neighborhood.  Here’s a summary of questions, with answers, from that meeting…

PCCSRP FAQ's Jan 2013

Read the four page document here:


High Springs, Fl.

January 29, 2013

Our neighbors to the north

The town of High Springs, Fl., near Gainesville, has grinder pumps… and grinder pump problems.  Their sewer project was originally approved in 2001 (about the same time as the PCSSRP) and today they have a total of 1100 grinder pumps (I don’t know what percentage this represents of their total sewer system, but part of the system remains on gravity).  It seems that things were fine at first.  The pumps carry a two year warranty, so the initial W_-_Grinder_Pumps_DSCF5843_copyreplacement cost was covered by the manufacturer.  But as more pumps were added to the system and the warranties began to expire, more and more cost was shifted to the city.  As of March 2012, the city has already replaced 162 pumps. “The system’s grinder pumps are failing at a rate of four a month to as many as four a week”, the failure rate being 22.7% in roughly two years.

Mayor Dean Davis said the debt on the sewer system is for a period of 40 years. “So, I think we’ve bought a used car that’s going to wear out before we get the debt paid,” he said. The city commission recently approved $29,760 to the engineering firm of Mittauer and Assoc. to determine the best course of action.

Will residents get stuck with the bill?

The City is currently absorbing all cost for grinder pumps that fail, but replacements are costing the city between $3,000 and $6,000. As the pumps run out of their warranties, “fixing the pumps could eventually fall on the homeowner”.  An agenda item for the Sept 2012 City Commission Meeting recommends that “the only way to reduce the cost to the City is by setting fees for pump replacements… in order to encourage better maintenance and care of the grinder pumps by the end users”.  Do we want to get ourselves into a situation like this?

Emergency Procedures

Commissioner Linda Gestrin said she is worried about what would happen if the power went out (as are some of us in N-3) and would like to see future discussion on an emergency plan. The High Springs Grinder Pump Information brochure has a procedure for power failures, but perhaps Commissioner Gestrin doesn’t think “have a camp bucket on hand for sanitary uses” is adequate!images

More contractors?

Apparently the High Springs maintenance department feels as overwhelmed as the folks in James City County (tomorrow’s post).  A recent Wastewater System O&M Meeting produced an action item to solicit bids for a grinder pump repair program.

Does Sarasota County really need another program that requires administering contracts and monitoring contractors?


Why are we different?

I don’t know what similarities we share with High Springs.  Maybe our pumps are better.  Maybe we won’t have the problems they’re having. But certainly they did not expect to be in the situation they’re in today, having to spend $30,000 trying to find out what went wrong.

Links to source material:

(ed. note: this story was originally published on Nov. 11, 2012)

Resident’s Letter.18 to County Commission

January 28, 2013

N3 residents Steven and Tonya Garcia wrote to the County Commissioners…  here is their unedited letter:

January 28, 2013

Sarasota County Commissioners

Re: N3 South Gate area of the Phillippi Creek Septic Replacement Program.

Dear Commissioners,

As homeowners in the designated “N3” area, my wife and I strongly oppose the grinder pump system which will result in a diminution of our property value and negatively impact our overall quality of life and peace of mind.

My wife and I have lived in our home on Umatillo Avenue for 13 years. I am a certified real estate appraiser and have been involved with a variety of appraisal assignments including various market studies, diminution of value studies, eminent domain projects and detrimental condition studies.

We support either utilizing the existing gravity sewer system or providing a centralized vacuum sewer system as the best option for the N3 South Gate area.

With regards to our property, our perfectly functioning septic system is proposed to be replaced with a grinder pump sewer system which has been shown to be problematic and will occupy a portion of our property. As Sarasota County will require the mandatory sewer connection, this is readily available and located 100 feet from our property line at the southwest corner of Umatillo Avenue and Theresa Lane.

We respect your commitment to save tax payer’s dollars, however the grinder pump system will be highly unfavorable to the future of all homeowners for this area.

Please vote “NO” on Grinder Pumps and support the use of either a gravity or centralized vacuum system for our area.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Stephen and Tonya Garcia
3613 Umatillo Avenue

(ed. note: Stephen A. Garcia is an active State Certified Residential Real Estate Appraiser-RD5620)

What Makes Us Different?

January 27, 2013

Two recent articles looked at where grinder pumps are successfully used, both generally and one example right here in our program. Indeed, the original Hazen and Sawyer Report told us to expect “a small number, approximately 400”, in the PCSSRP.  So it’s not that these pumps are a sub-standard technology; in the appropriate situation they can be exactly the right thing to do.

law of large numbers

But a number of communities are experiencing problems as a result of grinder pumps in their sewer systems (High Springs, Fl and James City County, Va, for example).  The common factor seems to be the number of pumps in the system.  When they had only a small number of grinder pumps in their system, the High Springs utility department had no problem with the maintenance.  Now that they have 1069 pumps, they are overwhelmed; they have recently signed a $30,000 contract with their consultant to figure out what to do.  The situation in James City County is similar (you can find both stories in “Other Communities Experiences”).

cant’t happen here

At a recent meeting with county staff, the  N3 Committee raised the issue of the 1120 grinder pumps proposed for our program. The staff was asked: “What makes Sarasota County different? We now have 128 pumps in our system, and maintenance is no problem.  What happens when all 1120 are in service and need to be maintained?”  The difference, we were told, is that we’re not High Springs or James City County.  We have a large number of ratepayers that produce enough revenue so that maintenance cost will never be an issue.  So maybe the money is only important on the front end, the installation costs.  Once the system is in operation, the costs get shifted to a maintenance budget and we’ll pay whatever it takes. Who’s going to notice?

Resident’s Letter.17 to County Commission

January 25, 2013

A letter to Commissioners from the Abraham-Belding household:

January 24, 2013

Sarasota County Commissioners

Dear Commissioners:

We write this letter to ask you to oppose the ill-conceived notion that our community would be better served with a grinder pump sewage system than any other. The N3 Southgate neighborhood represents a coming together of young and retired families comprising all socioeconomic levels. Among our neighbors are research scientists, accountants, media and business professionals, and academic scholars, including at least one Nobel laureate. While we appreciate the engineering staff appearing before a small number of us at the Southgate Community Center on January 17, we were disappointed by a presentation that was long on unsettling generalities and short on reliable comparisons of the choices before us.

The N3 neighborhood is surrounded on three sides by gravity sewer systems. But integrating our neighborhood with the others has been deemed unrealistic financially, since installing a grinder pump system is likely to cost less than a gravity system. Not addressed are the costs of the grinders as they need to be replaced every decade or so. Choosing this technology appears to be a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.  Another choice which was hardly discussed is a centralized vacuum system with an emergency generator. The latter would provide continuity of function, as the Environmental Protection Agency affirms. A grinder system affords no such continuity of service, since it is prodigiously vulnerable to power failures.

We do not doubt the good will of the engineering staff. But we and our neighbors believe that a grinder system is an invitation to disaster. We urge you to vote against the grinder proposal, and support a gravity or centralized vacuum system.


Henry David Abraham, M.D.
Carol Jane Belding
3401 Tanglewood Dr

Commissioner Robinson’s (5:23 AM) response:

Dear Dr. Abraham and Ms. Belding,

Thank you for taking the time to write. The Commission has postponed a decision on this matter until February to allow for time to review and explore the situation with staff and the N-3 Committee. Thank you for your thoughts.

Best Regards,


Christine Robinson
Sarasota County Commissioner

JEA Unloads Pump Maintenance

January 24, 2013

I just came across this August 2009 article about the Jacksonville Electric Authority.  It seems that yet another utility is pushing the responsibility of grinder pumps back to the homeowner. I haven’t researched the situation, but here’s a link to the article; you can read it for yourself.  If anyone wants to investigate the story, let me know what you find and I’ll post it here.

Here’s the article:

JEA to homeowners: You fix them


Where are the Other 800?

January 23, 2013

The Hazen and Sawyer reports states “a small number of low pressure [grinder pump] systems (approximately 400) will be constructed under the PCSSRP…”, but at the August 30 Community Meeting we were told that 8% of the 14,000 septic tank conversions would be “low pressure”. So, when did we go from 400 to 1120? We were recently told that there are now 128 grinder pumps operating in the county-wide program.  With the 200 proposed for N3, that leaves about 800 more to be installed… but where?

Let’s look for one…

Yesterday’s post discussed where grinder pump pressure sewers are best used; low elevation, waterfront lots are typical.  Certainly some of the homes in the PCSSRP qualify as luxury waterfront, so where are they? The  County website says that there are 54 grinder pumps in Area F, so I recently took a ride along Riverwood Ave to see if I could find one. I went down a street that runs off Riverwood down to Phillippi Creek and found about a dozen homes, all waterfront.  I also found a resident that was eager to tell me about his grinder pump.

This owner let me know immediately that he is very happy with his pump. He had only good things to say about the pump, and the County’s response time for repairs (the pump was installed in 2008 or 2009 and has had several service calls).  He said that the quality of the water behind his home has improved significantly, and he no longer has a “squishy, smelly front yard”.  He is delighted that he no longer has the expense of maintaining a very problematic drainfield, and he feels that the value of his property has increased, not decreased.

A good location

There is little question that a grinder pump was the best choice for his home.  There are only a dozen homesites on his street; they are all waterfront and are about 10 feet below the main sewer line on Riverwood Ave.  The septic tanks and drainfields in this area function poorly, being so close to the water table.  After years of dealing with sewer problems, he’s delighted to have a pump in his front yard instead of a soggy, odorus drainfield.

GP Typical Inst

There are definitely areas within the PCSSRP where “low pressure” grinder pumps are the sensible choice, but  NOT  the 200 homes in N3.  Look at the illustration above… that’s not us!

Where are the other 800?

There have been several letters to the Commissioners concerning the “disclosure” issue associated with real estate transactions. Maybe the owners of the 800 lots proposed for grinder pumps should be notified now of what’s coming their way.

Location, Location, Location…

January 22, 2013

We have been told that a system of grinder pumps will best serve the 200 homes in our N3 neighborhood, but let’s see where they are mostly used today. I have found some typical situations where they are appropriately used, and you can visit the Environmental One website for case studies of their successful installations.

Some Grinder Pump history

Grinder pumps, or “low pressure” sewer pumps, are not a new, unproven technology. They have been in residential use since the 1960’s and today there are dozens of pump manufacturers and several companies that market residential grinder pump packages.  E/One appears to be the largest with “over 500,000 in daily use”.  They claim to be the first to use them in residential systems in 1968. Other well known names are Myers, Flygt, and  Zoller (I can’t find any info on the ABS pump packages). So it’s safe to say that there are literally over a million residential grinder pumps in use today.

Location, location, locationfallingwater

Visit  EOne Case Studies and look at some of their installations. These are beautiful (and expensive!) homes.  One of the installations is Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water” in western Pennsylvania. So don’t think that these pumps are used only in marginal or “low rent” neighborhoods. They aren’t. A frequent use of grinder pumps is for waterfront homes, because along with the beautiful views and boat docks is typically a low site elevation. However, most of these homeowners will not tolerate the loss of bathroom facilities due to a power failure; they will have standby generators.  Automatic on-site generators are expensive, but they eliminate the inconvenience of loss of electrical equipment, including the grinder pump, during power outages.

Other Applications

EOne also recommends them for use in”flat, wet, rocky, hilly terrain” and ABS Piranha tells us that typical applications for these pumps are “houses in scattered settlements… or where large ground undulations are present”. Where vacuum (or gravity) is not feasible due to extreme elevation differences or other aspects of the topography, the addition of a few grinder pumps is a viable alternative.


How about our 200 homes in N-3?

I cannot come up with any aspect of our neighborhood that would make us a good candidate for a system of grinder pumps.  If we fit any of the categories above, grinder pumps, with their inherent disadvantages, might be the best overall system… but we don’t.  We are not a small number of homes on the water.  Our terrain is not rocky or hilly, and our neighborhood is not a “scattered settlement”. We have an adequate number of connections to make a vacuum system feasible.  The decision point seems to be projected cost… we’ll listen to the discussion on that on February 13th.

Tomorrow’s post: Where are the Other 800?