Archive for February, 2013

Did we find $1,500,000?

February 26, 2013

Design Technical Memorandum

On page 5 of the N3 Tech Memo 12-18-2012  you’ll find a table showing the estimated capital cost of a Vacuum system to be $3,363,000 and a Low Pressure system to be $2,114,000.  This indicates that low pressure grinder pumps are cheaper for our area by $1,249,000.  So, in order to make a Vacuum system cost effective for our area, we need to close this $1,249,000 “gap”.

Tech Memo Exhibit 5

Go to the last page of this report (Exhibit 5) and on line 12 you’ll find the grinder pump assemblies listed with a unit cost of $6000. With an estimated quantity of 196, the total amount for this line item is $1,176,000. This is the installed cost of the grinder pumps for our area N3 (the number of units should be 200, but for simplicity we’ll stick with 196).

Now let’s take a look at…

The Stantec Report

This is the Stantec Report (11/2006) that was discussed recently… I hope you’ve had a chance to read it.  In section 5 you’ll find this:

Stantec 2006 (pg. 5.3)

You can see that Stantec estimated the standard 158 gal grinder pump system at $9000 per unit, not the $6,000 used in the staff report. But never mind, because the Feb 13th BCC meeting clearly established that we’ll use the larger 375 gal systems.  So, 196 units at an installed cost of $14,400 each results in $2,822,400 that should appear on line 12 of the cost data sheet, not $1,176,000.

When $1,176,000 is replaced with $2,822,400, the bottom line is markedly different:  instead of costing $1,249,000 more than Low Pressure, the Vacuum system is actually  $397,400 less!

158:375 gal cost table

So, we started out trying to close a $1,249,000 gap.  We did that, plus we found and extra $397,400… I think we found the $1,500,000!

What’s next?

The Commissioners have directed staff to review not only our N3 Area, but future areas of the PCCSRP. I’m sure that including the extra capacity grinder pump tanks will change the conclusions of the December 18 Tech Memo.  This is a big job, and the Commissioners have given them several months to come back with an updated report. In the meantime I’ll be presenting information on other aspects of our neighborhood project.

(ed. note: all data used in this article came from documents furnished by Sarasota County.  I have no access to the consultants, equipment manufacturers, or other means to verify the data.  If the data is flawed, it came to me that way).  


Stantec 2006 Report

February 22, 2013

During the Feb 13th meeting, Commissioner Barbetta made several references to the Stantec 2006 report.  The following is a brief overview of that report along with some pertinent excerpts (there’s a link to the report at the end of this article).

The Stantec 2006 Report

By November 2006 Sarasota County had made the decision to replace 84% of the septic tanks in the PCSSRP with vacuum sewers; the rest would be either gravity or low pressure grinder pumps.  For the areas designated as “low pressure”, the County sought an evaluation of grinder pumps, as the citizens of Sarasota County had expressed concern over system storage and operation during extended power outages.

This report from Stantec Consulting Services provided an evaluation of the adequacy of the storage volume in the proposed systems, along with the means of allowing operation during emergencies such as prolonged power outages.  The Stantec report includes an evaluation of grinder pump systems from three different manufacturers, and interviews with other Florida communities using low pressure grinder pumps.

Here are some excerpts

Commissioner Barbetta felt that an emergency power receptacle was an extremely important component of a grinder pump installation.  The report had this to say:

“The most significant potential emergency condition in this region of the country is a power failure [and] some consideration should be made for emergency storage in a grinder pumping system… providing emergency power connections for these systems would allow rapid connection of the generator using a simple plug connection… thereby saving time for the public utility or the resident to pump down the unit with a generator”.

“Emergency power receptacles are offered as an option on most grinder pump systems… if there’s an emergency power receptacle with a universal plug, the property owner has the ability to pump down his own unit with a generator in an emergency”.

Commissioner Patterson stressed the importance of extra capacity tanks in the event of a prolonged power outage.  The report does indeed consider emergency storage:

“The 158 gallon [system] has a storage time of approximately 1.3 days… the 375 gallon has approximately 4.9 days”.

Take time to read the report…

Here’s the link to the Stantec Report.  There is lots of information in it and the data is from late 2006.  If you find something particularly interesting, send it in and I’ll post it.

Stantec Report (11/2006)

Review of Feb 13th BCC Meeting

February 21, 2013

Today’s post will introduce a series of articles reviewing the meeting and the discussion between Commissioners and Staff (you may want to bookmark the video; I make frequent reference to time stamps).

There were many points raised by the commissioners that give us good reason to be optimistic.  Probably the most significant action was the directive given to staff to take yet another look at all of the factors that will impact our neighborhood and the PCSSRP.  All of the commissioners agreed that we should take the time to make an informed decision that will best serve all concerned.

Some highlights

The N3 discussion period lasted just over an hour.  I will comment on various segments and provide time stamps so that you can watch the video and form your own opinions.

Commissioner Barbetta:  Grinder pump panels should be equipped with emergency receptacles.  This will allow a generator (either utility or homeowner) to power the grinder pump during a power outage to maintain sewage disposal [01:01:19] and [01:07:04].

Commissioner Patterson: The County should install the larger 375 gallon tank for all grinder pump installations [01:24:40].  This will provide 4.9 days of reserve capacity versus 1.3 days.  We know that grinder pumps will be the only reasonable choice for some homes, and this will certainly provide those residents some peace of mind. Near the end of the meeting, Comm. Patterson directs staff to include the larger tanks into future calculations [01:36:10].

Commissioner Hines:  Asks the staff for a response to  the N3 Committee’s review of the staff’s Tech Memo.  He recognizes that our report “was prepared in a logical and reasoned way” and that we had “backed up our numbers” [01:12:40].

Commissioner Robinson: As she has throughout this process, Commissioner Robinson encourages the staff to provide the new data to us so that we have time to digest the information [01:43:00].

Commissioner Mason: Along with Commissioner Robinson, she questions the use of 13 year old data [01:24:10], and she congratulates the N3 neighborhood for our efforts and encourages us to “keep up the good work” [01:43:00].

My take…

I have been very encouraged by this entire process, and this latest meeting has reinforced my optimism.  All of the commissioners have been accessible, fair-minded, and have involved themselves in our small project.  We really owe them a debt of thanks for facilitating this process.  

My request to our neighborhood:  stay involved!  Read the blog, do your own research and see what you come up with.  Send me what you find; I’ll post anything that is respectful and pertinent.  This blog is not my private “soapbox”… this is our neighborhood bulletin board.

So, watch the countdown calendar… we’ll see what happens in the next 3 months!

Video of Feb 13 County Commission Meeting

February 14, 2013

If you missed the meeting yesterday, here’s a link to the video.  The meeting began with a couple of award and recognition presentations, followed by comments from some of your N3 neighbors (time stamp 00:13:15).

What do you think?

Watch the video and send in your comments… I’ll post them here. Also, take time to email a “thank you” to the Commissioners for bringing our neighborhood project to a discussion. You’ll see at the end of the meeting that the staff is directed to do further analysis and provide a report to the Commissioners within 90 to 120 days… so stay tuned!

Resident’s Letter.21 to County Commission

February 11, 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dear Commissioners,

We have been told that three technologies were considered for our neighborhood sewers: (1) gravity, (2) vacuum, and (3) low pressure grinder pumps. Because of costs, grinder pumps have been selected for all of our 200 homes. But maybe there is a fourth option… expand the scope of an N3 vacuum system to include the customers of the adjacent Goldenrod gravity system.


  1. Area N3 is surrounded on three sides by a 50+ year old gravity sewer system that frequently requires restoration, not just routine maintenance.  Groundwater intrusion is likely a major problem.Goldenrod Gravity
  2. Including the several hundred Goldenrod gravity connections will greatly increase the economy of scale of a vacuum system that would then serve well over 500 customers.
  3. The vacuum station can be built with the number and size pumps to serve N3, but the building structure is sized to accommodate the ultimate number of pumps required for the entire area.  Sections of the gravity system that need repair will instead be transferred to the vacuum station that is designed to serve them.  Additional pumps will be added or up sized as required by the additional hook-ups.
  4. Lift station No.059-0610 is located in front of 3125 Lockwood Ridge Rd.  The homeowner cannot be pleased with this structure, frequently producing a noxious odor, in his front yard. Buy this property. The owner is happy to relocate from a compromised property that would be difficult to sell, and the county has a vacuum pump station site that is centrally located.

I’m sure that most folks served by the gravity system are content with what they now have, so this will require hiring a consultant to evaluate a system that no one is complaining about.  The money being spent now is a maintenance cost, so no no one notices. Who wants to go out on a limb for something far out into the future?

But imagine the situation a few years from now: 200 homes served by grinder pumps, which are now failing at an increasing rate, surrounded by a 60-70 year old gravity sewer that can no longer be patched and “re-piped. Whoever is involved in this future scenario will scratch their heads and wonder “what were those guys thinking?”

Please include this possibility in the discussions on Wednesday.

Thank you,

W. Mike Scarborough
3316 Tanglewood Dr.

Storm Survivial

February 10, 2013

That’s the title of a 2005 article from the civil engineering publication CE News.  The article describes experiences from Florida 2004, the “Year of the Hurricane”.  You’ll recall that was the year that wiped out the low pressure pump system in Rockridge, FL  (blog archives “Other Communities Experiences” 11/25/2012).  A vacuum system was later chosen to replace the low pressure pumps for the 416 Rockridge homes.

Of course the current weather news is snowstorms, not hurricanes. But swap a hurricane for a blizzard and the  catastrophic results are the same: no electricity for days or weeks, roads are impassable and help is difficult to come by.

Vacuum sewers withstand Florida’s hurricanes

Mike Ray, operations manager for Englewood Water District:  “We had all kinds of problems …, but the vacuum sewers never missed a beat.”

Robert Campbell, Village of Palm Springs:  We had zero occurrences of sewer spills from vacuum systems; other municipalities were allowing sewage to flow onto the ground because they had no power.”

James Moore, water dept. of Carrabelle (Fla panhandle):  Other than checking the fuel and oil in the backup power units, the vacuum sewers required none of our time… the system had no downtime and continued to service our customers.”

Craig Bliss, Water Reclamation Mgr. for Sarasota County: “The vacuum stations required very little preparation, and we never lost [sewer] service, even though we lost electrical power.” As vacuum systems are expanded, “that will mean a lot fewer headaches for us the next time a hurricane comes through”.

(Read the article CE News – Storm Survival  to learn more about real-life experiences here in Florida)

What about grinder pumps?

Although no sewer system is perfect, it is clear that vacuum systems perform well in storms and other power outage situations.  But let’s not demonize grinder pumps; it’s not as though the county is proposing to put Port-a-Potties in our yards.  In some situations grinder pumps can be the technology of choice. Ironically, some of those situations involve the most expensive homes: luxury lake front and beach front (read the Jan 22 post “Location, location. location…” in the archives under grinder pumps).  So, yes, we’ll use them where they are the best choice, but let’s keep the total number to a minimum so that county crews will be able to maintain them. Simply put, grinder pumps are not the best choice for our N3 neighborhood or for Sarasota County Utilities.

CE News – Storm Survival

Cleaning Up the Florida Keys

February 8, 2013

without any comment…

here’s an excerpt from a 2009 article in Civil Engineering News:

“Low-pressure [grinder pump] sewers offered many of the same advantages as vacuum sewers in terms of pipe size, trench depth, and limited traffic disruption, but the life-cycle costs were higher than those of vacuum sewers. This was mainly because of the number of grinder pumps that would be required for the Keys project and the associated maintenance costs. Each dwelling would require a grinder pump and electrical connection to the dwelling. For many of the small homes in the Keys, this would have required an upgrade to their electrical systems. Furthermore, power outages, which are common in this region, would have shut down the system unless each grinder pump had its own generator, which is not practical”.

(read the complete article)

A resident’s experience from Chelmsford, Ma.

February 7, 2013

The following letter was recently posted on the Chelmsford, Ma. SFA website.  You can find the original Chelmsford article in “Other Communities Experiences” posted Dec 17, 2012

“I am now a second class citizen in the Town of Chelmsford”

What I went through:

Saturday August 20, 2011

  • 8:30 am  the grinder pump alarm went off
  • 8:45 am  I called the  Sewer Department and  the automated answering machine told me to call the Police Department
  • 8:50 am  Called the police Department and was told that they would have someone from the Sewer Department call me back
  • 9:10 am  I received a call back from the person covering the Sewer Department and was told he could do nothing and gave me the telephone number for FR Mahoney who services the grinder pumps.
  • 9:15 am  Called FR Mahoney and left a message to call me
  • 9:30 am  I received a call back from the one person covering service on the weekend and was told he had five open calls and would not be able to come out until Sunday August 21st

Sunday August 21, 2011

  • 9:00 am  Called FR Mahoney again and left a message checking on status of service call
  •  9:15 am  I received call from the FR Mahoney service person stating that I was number two on the list for that day
  •  10:30 am  Service person arrived and replaced two relay switches and some other parts on the pump
  • 11:30 am  Completed repairing the pump

I had no sewer service for 28 hours 

Footnote:  I have lived in Chelmsford for 40 years with no problem getting through the well known and frequent power outages without the need for a generator.  But after experiencing a pump failure,  I was so afraid of not having sewer service due to a power outage that I spent $7,000.00 for a natural gas generator.   At age 71 with only one leg, I didn’t feel that I could cope with the less expensive solution of a 6500 watt portable generator.

Harold Witt
8 Mansfield Dr
Chelmsford, MA  01824

( notice there were seven phone conversations during this event)

N3 Committee’s Review of the Technical Memorandum

February 6, 2013

On August 31, 2012 Sarasota County Staff made a presentation at the South Gate Community Center to explain why grinder pumps were the designated sewer system for the N3 neighborhood.  On December 18, 2012 the County Staff published their Design Technical Memorandum upholding that decision.  The N3 neighborhood committee recently published a critical review of their report.  You will find both documents in the links below; review and compare them and send in your comments.  Please forward these reports to anyone you know that may have expertise in this area.

Review of N3 Tech Memo 2-4-2103

N3 Tech Memo Final 12-18-2012

Resident’s Letter.20 to County Commission

February 6, 2013

Carolyn Garvey recently wrote to the Commissioners:

Dear County Commissioners, 

I want to thank you for meeting with our N3 Committee members recently.  They have worked very hard investigating grinder pumps and have uncovered information not shared with us by the County. My sincere hope is that you will make your decision based on what is truly good for our area, not what is cheapest.  We were told recently in the neighborhood meeting by the County financial person that cost is the driving force behind the push for our small area to have grinder pumps.  I would hope that cost can be outweighed by the negative aspects associated with grinder pumps and that another solution can be found.  My personal feeling is that in an effort to find the cheapest sewer solution the County is white washing the negatives associated with grinder pumps. 

John Scalzi brought up an excellent point in the neighborhood meeting.  He said that the County goes to great expense to mitigate damage from hurricanes, millions of dollars a year, yet the County when it comes to the grinder pump issue is willing to put our homes and our safety in jeopardy.  Grinder pumps fail with power outages.  There is not a property owner in N3 that believes that in case of an emergency we will be able to receive service to keep our pumps working and prevent back up into our homes.  It is not reasonable to suggest that a few hundred individual homes will receive the service that the folks with the vacuum systems will receive, even though we would stand in great jeopardy of inconvenience and damage to our homes.  The County tried to assure us that they will have contracts in place for service…not convincing when we are looking at a worse case hurricane scenario. Our N3 property owners are united in our opposition to the grinder pump sewer system.

Please vote NO on the upcoming Grinder Pump proposal. 

Thank you,

Carolyn Garvey
3449 Tanglewood Dr.