Archive for the ‘Other Communities Experiences’ Category

Kia ora from New Zealand

June 26, 2013

( I recently received this email from a resident of Christchurch, NZ )

I live in Christchurch New Zealand, and I have been following your WordPress blog for the past 3 months.
Christchurch, my city of 363,200 residents, has suffered several devastating earthquakes in the past few years… my beautiful city will never be the same!-1
We currently have a gravity wastewater system and we are told by our Council that it has failed due to the earthquakes.  Wastewater still flows from my property by gravity as it did before the earthquakes with no problems.  The Council is trying to install 6000 grinder pumps throughout the city, approximately 850 surrounding my home.  The Council will install these on private property and maintain the units at no charge to the homeowner, except the homeowner will pay the electricity cost.  However, our current Council has admitted that their decisions are not binding on future Councils.  We believe that once Council realize how costly and problematic these grinders are they will simply be ‘gifted’ to the homeowner to service and maintain.  We are told that grinder pumps are more resilient than a gravity system.  They are suggesting that the grinder pump only requires maintenance every 10 years and it will last for 25 years……’Yeah, right’.  Our Council has admitted they have done no overseas research on this… we have.

Thank you for your blog site, we have found it immensely informative and helpful in trying to understand these grinder pumps.

Kindest regards,
Niki De Pina
 (p.s. we love your “Dump the pumps NO GRINDERS” yard signs )

(ed. note: Christchurch citizens file for judicial review)

According to a June 14 post on the Christchurch Concerned Citizens website, court documents have been filed seeking ‘interim relief’ to halt the installation of grinder pumps.  We should all reflect on how fortunate we are that our elected officials listened to us and acted to review the installation of grinder pumps in N3.

Thank you Sarasota County Commissioners!


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)

Where is the other $1,542,840?

February 3, 2013

The Jan 9th blog post talked about McCartyville, OH. In 2008 they built a new AirVac vacuum sewer system for $1.4 million.  The article provided contact information for the project engineer along with an invitation to call him and see how they were able to build their system for $1.4 million, while a similar sized system for our N3 neighborhood was estimated to cost $3.363 million.  County staff reported that they did indeed call the engineer in Ohio. They were told that McCartyville is a rural community with few paved roads and driveways that had to be replaced due to the installation of sewer lines ( search Google Maps for McCartyville, OH.  and see what you think).

house lists "new sewer 2007"

9029 Pleiman Rd. lists “new sewer 2007”

Staff Technical Memorandum – Dec 18, 2012

Look at the estimate sheet for the vacuum sewer for N3 (Tech Memo, Exhibit 4, lines 19-31):

Exhibit 4 N3DTM

Adding all items for surface repair (bridge crossings, roads, sod, etc.) produces total of $420,160.

Our N3 vacuum system is estimated to cost $3.363M; the McCartyville project was built for $1.4M.  That means that our system is estimated to cost $1,963,000 more than McCartyville.  If you subtract all of our road repair costs, that still leaves $1,542,840.  The land for the McCartyville project may have been given to them by the state, so there’s part of the difference.  Our land costs are estimated at $250,000; what accounts for the rest of the $1,542,840?

N3 Tech Memo Final 12-18-2012

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)

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)

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


McCartyville, OH.

January 9, 2013

McCartyville is a small community in Shelby County, Ohio.  In 2006 a project was undertaken to provide sewer service to 86 residences and seven commercial properties; that’s less than 100 customers. The Shelby County Commissioners reviewed a plan prepared by Choice One Engineering and, with the cooperation of the Shelby County Sewer District Director, chose an AirVac vacuum sewer system.

Construction on the project began in december 2006, and was completed in August 2007 for approximately $1.4 million.  The Sewer District Director had this to say: “the project was completed on time and approximately $200,000 below the engineer’s original estimate. All parties involved are very pleased with the outcome”.

McCartyville vacuum station

McCartyville vacuum station

This article caught my attention because the dedicated vacuum station had such a small number of customers. I emailed the Choice One Project Manager, Andrew Shuman, to ask if they had considered grinder pumps for this project.

Here is his January 4, 2013 reply:


Thank you for your inquiry.  Yes, we discussed a low pressure system. However, the County Sewer District did not want the maintenance of additional grinder pumps in their system.  They already have several grinders in place that are a maintenance headache.  We felt that the vacuum system offered a lower maintenance cost over the return period.  Also, in McCartyville’s situation the conventional gravity and lift station was not possible due to the depth needed to install the main.  As far as I know, the County likes the vacuum system operation and has had few problems.  We have recently added another community of about the same size to the vacuum system.  If you would like me to put you in touch with the County Sewer District, let me know.

Andy Shuman, P.E.
Choice One Engineering
(937) 497-0200

Any questions…?

I called with Mr. Shuman to thank him for his email and we spoke briefly about the decision to avoid a low pressure system.  He said that in addition to the maintenance issues, the county did not want to burden the homeowners with the energy costs and other disadvantages of grinder pumps. He was very helpful in our conversation and agreeable to the posting of this article. Perhaps further conversation will reveal how their small vacuum system was built for $1,400,000 when ours is estimated to cost $3,363,000.

Attention Sarasota County Commissioners and Staff:

Mr. Schuman offered to speak with anyone who has questions about this project.  I have included his contact information below:

Andrew T. Schuman, P.E.
Email: ats[@]choiceoneengineering[dot]com
Phone: 937.497.0200

Choice One Engineering


Hartland Township, Mi.

January 6, 2013

Hartland Township is a small community in Livingston County, Michigan.  A recent financial review concluded that the township’s sewer revenues were not covering the costs of operating the system. New development has stalled and the loss of the anticipated assessments and connection fees has resulted in insufficient cash flow to meet ongoing expenses and the debt repayment of the sewer utility. The township commissioned a study to develop rates and fees that will cover the cost of operating the sewer system.

A report was published in late 2011 and  recommends several rate changes to increase the town’s revenue. The item that caught my attention was this:

Grinder Pump Surcharge

“Surcharges are included in rate structures where there are unique expenses associated with a particular group of customers. Grinder pumps result in increased operating and maintenance expense. To segregate and recover the costs associated with grinder pumps, these costs are distributed amongst customers with grinder pumps as a surcharge”.  The study recommends assessing grinder pump customers a quarterly surcharge of $28.91 in 2012 increasing to $35.91 in 2017.

What does this mean to us?

Would a situation like this ever develop in Sarasota?  Who can say. The point here is that yet another community has identified problems and expenses associated with grinder pumps and is proposing to pass those expenses on to the grinder pump users.  All customers on the sewer system will have increases necessary to cover operating costs… that’s understandable. But the grinder pump users are being singled out with an extra charge because of the “low pressure” technology they have been saddled with.

If anyone is interested in researching this further,  the link below will take you to the report.

Sewer Rate Study